Richard Maun – How To Make A Mistake Well

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How To Make A Mistake Well

29 July 2019

I love being a radio host and if I’m honest here it was totally scary the first time I went live. I had practiced hard, had a detailed script and knew what to do and when to do it.

I remember sitting at the desk, with my cohost to one side, excited and ready to go.

The news finished and I pressed the button to play out the adverts and …nothing.

Dead air. Silence. An instant radio nightmare.

Luckily the station manager was standing behind me. He calmly reached down, pushed the correct button and the adverts burst into life. I was saved and my heart could get back to a less frantic beat.

In my haste to get started I’d clicked on the header line for the advert and not the advert itself. The practice studio didn’t run ads and so it was an easy mistake to make, but it does mean that the first thing I ever did on air was cock it up.

If you think I’m going to say that I’ve learned from that and never made another mistake you’d be wrong. I have missed cues, pushed the wrong button, missed the news once (too busy listening to a track, oops, don’t tell anyone) and in general have made every single mistake available to me.

I can now listen to BBC radio shows and enjoy hearing all their mistakes too. Once you know what you’re looking for you’d be amazed how often their hosts get it wrong too.

What I did learn though was that:

A. Live radio is very different to having a practice off air. The stress levels are very different!

B. Nobody cares. If (and when) I make a mistake it feels huge to me and yet our loyal listener doesn’t notice. They don’t care really if a track ends one second too early and there’s a tiny sliver of dead air. The mistake has been and gone in a blink. I’ve learned to let the small stuff go and focus on getting the big stuff right, such as making sure the show flows smoothly between items and that nervous guests are put at ease and enjoy their interviews.

C. What matters is to sort it and move on. Our playout system has the odd glitch, for example when a track hasn’t uploaded properly and what looks like a three minute song ends abruptly after 20 seconds. If that happens it takes a moment to register there is silence instead of sound and I calmly fade up the mic, say something helpful and get the next track started. No drama, nothing to see here!

D. I’m great at managing a challenging live environment. My mistakes mean that I now know what to do in any situation that is thrown at me on air. This is a good metaphor for business, where experience counts in the same way.

I’m not someone who likes to make mistakes really. I’m organised and disciplined and yet radio has taught me to relax and go with the flow more. If we never make a mistake we never learn anything and now I apologise with a smile if I’ve messed up and just carry on. I like to think that I’ve made a mistake well …small errors dealt with professionally are such useful learning points. They build confidence and the irony here is that on the radio I’m much more relaxed than on day one and so I make fewer mistakes.

This translates into a more relaxed business world too. It’s impossible to be in business without making the odd mistake and so many people make life hard for themselves by fretting over the tiniest imperfection. My experience is that people often don’t care so much about the mistake, but they do care what we do about it.

A sincere apology, hearing their issue and doing something about it promptly are what they do care about, and rightly so.

My listener doesn’t mind about a couple of seconds of silence (radio is all about managing the seconds) as long as their overall experience is a good one. The show starts on time and is consistent and fun. I’ve learned to get the big stuff right and not let the small hiccups get to me. Perhaps we should all have a radio show and learn these things for ourselves?

Managers and leaders can learn to get the big things right and be supportive of staff who make small errors. They will learn over time and make fewer errors if we are kind to them.

We can all learn to make mistakes well by correcting them promptly and with a sincere apology to those affected by them.

If you’d like to hear a selection of my radio mistakes then tune in to 12.00 noon to 2.00pm each week and see how many you can spot. My #BusinessLife show has been running for 8 years now, it’s great fun and has taught me a lot about the true nature of mistakes. They’re not really as alarming as I first thought. In fact they are human.

So, this week, we can go easy on ourselves. If we push the wrong button then we can learn from that and be a human too!

Next week: What’s Your Stretch?


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© Richard Maun 2015 / Click here to contact