What constitutes a communication mistake? Is it misrepresenting the facts, disparaging individuals or groups, or not responding to issues?

In today’s world of instantaneous communications, the world is very quick to judge and slow to forgive. So what is my advice when a mistake is made?

Apologizing, a Canadian pastime, is a start but there are some rules and the reality is that restoring your good name takes time, effort and patience.

Breathe. The worst thing someone can do is react to a situation in the heat of the moment.

Empathize with the reaction of others. Try to understand why people have reacted as they have.  Your comprehension will be important in the way you respond.

Respond. In communicating about the error, if you’ve made a mistake or done something wrong, apologize. Apologies do not have to be confessionals and you can certainly go overboard by protesting too much. In your response, take responsibility for what happened, say you are sorry, tell people how you plan to prevent a recurrence and offer commitments to mitigate any damage.

Accept reality. The reality is that although the news of your gaffe is instantaneous, the news of your response will be slower and its acceptance may be slow and may never happen for some people. So, not everyone will react the way you want them to and this can be immensely frustrating.

Rebuild trust. Trust is built over time. Your words and actions must match those from your response, indicating that you have learned a lesson and are following through on your commitments. The gaffe is likely to come up over and over again but gradually – and this could take years – your efforts to overcome the adversity will pay off BUT only if you are sincere and consistent.

The bottom line: Your reaction to a public indiscretion or mistake needs to be swift, thoughtful and real to put you on the long road to regaining trust.