The One Crucial Thing You’re Forgetting When Handling Mistakes

We are all people, and mistakes happen. Sometimes we, as translators or interpreters, are the ones at fault. Perhaps we didn't catch a typo or mixed up a deadline. Or perhaps there was a miscommunication between you and your client that produced what your client perceives to be a mistake on your part. It happens to the best of us but the worst thing you can do is become defensive or try to prove you’re actually right when it’s clear you’re not.

Corrective and Preventive Actions (CAPA) are used in many types of businesses and if you're not already implementing a similar procedure for your freelance business, using this method is a great way to make sure to keep emotions in check and handle difficult situations.

Using this method can save you and your clients a lot of frustration and anger and ensure that you keep working together for ages to come but even if you're executing the first two steps, chances are, you're leaving out the last.

1) Apologize

When you are at fault, do not jump to defending yourself in hopes of somehow making it appear you are less at fault. Sometimes we are simply wrong and it's OK. Apologize. However, often the scenario isn't so clear cut. What if both you and your client are at fault? Do you still apologize? YES, but only accept responsibility for your part. What if the mistake is entirely your client's fault? Be kind but don't take responsibility.

Example: The client e-mails you telling you that you've missed the deadline.

Hi Sarah,
It looks like there was a miscommunication regarding the agreed deadline. In my records, I have Monday at 10 PM PST, not 10 AM PST.

If we imagine the issue is over a missed deadline in which the client wrote the wrong time down and you are right, the above is usually sufficient to get them to go back and check their own e-mail chain to see that the agreed deadline is in fact PM not AM. Putting them on the defensive won't help your case. When in doubt, always be kind.

Or, if you are wrong:

Hi Sarah,
I am incredibly sorry but I seem to have recorded the deadline as Monday at 10 PM PST and not 10 AM PST.

Don't spend too much time apologizing…move on quickly.

2) Direct attention to the solution as quickly as you can – CA (corrective action)

Dwelling on who said what when isn't getting the problem solved any faster. It's likely that if you are at fault, your client is angry at you. If your client is at fault, she is angry at herself. Either way, she's not happy and this is your time to save the day.

In our imaginary scenario, a deadline has been missed and the job has not even been started yet. Your client needs to see you as his ally in solving this problem. Get on the same team as your client and even if you are the one at fault, you still have the opportunity for your client to come away from this with a positive opinion of your encounter. Immediately start proposing solutions regardless of who is at fault. Can you cancel or move around other work to do it yourself immediately? If not, can the client reassign it to someone else to get the job done faster? Do you have a colleague you can contact to get it done for you immediately (assuming you're not prohibited from doing this)? If, and only if, you are the one at fault, consider offering a discount given that you did not fulfill your end of the agreement (i.e., job completed by the deadline).

If you find a solution to the problem, you're making your client feel safe by working with you. They now know that even when things go wrong (no matter who is at fault), you're willing to work hard and jump in quickly to solve the problem for them. This might be even more true when the client is at fault. Solve the problem they created and now you're really the hero!

Even freelancers who are pros at handling these situations usually stop here, but here's the final step that is by far the most important:

3) How will you prevent this from occurring in the future? – PA (preventive action)

No matter who is at fault, this is really important. If your client is at fault, this step helps put them at ease that even if they slip up, you're helping to look out for this situation to make sure it doesn't recur. If you are at fault, you want to put them at ease that you won't keep making the mistake over and over again and I promise you that 'I won't do it again' provides zero comfort.

I once had an e-mail glitch that meant an outgoing job was stuck in my outbox and the client never received it. They were in Europe and I’m in California, so this was a big problem. When I woke up in the morning at 6 AM, the file was already more than half a day late. I provided a discount since they weren’t able to meet their client’s deadline, and my preventive action was that I began adding myself in BCC on all e-mails so that I could confirm they were sent and I told the client I would do this moving forward to prevent the same problem from recurring. Do NOT make excuses but the client should be reassured in some way that this mistake will not repeat itself.

There's one last really important factor to dealing with these situations. Do NOT get emotional. One of the best ways to prevent your emotions from getting involved (e.g., how DARE you accuse me of missing a deadline when it's YOUR fault) is to have e-mail templates ready to go.

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    Author: Jenae Spry

    Jenae has been a French > English translator for over 10 years and a productivity and performance coach for freelancers for over 5 years. Jenae launched the Success by Rx blog to help freelancers achieve success.

    Posted in Business.


    1. Thanks for the great advice and templates, Jenae! I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t run into an issue like this yet, but it’s always better to have a plan in place before you need it!

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