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What Your Carelessness Communicates

Everyone makes mistakes now and then. We get tired, distracted, nervous and overwhelmed, then, before you know it – we forget, assume, omit, drop, spill, fall, bump, bang, trip, and yes, make a typo. The trick is that in that moment, something else had our full attention.

What this carelessness tells those around us, very subtly, but very clearly, is that in that moment of the mistake, we cared less about where the mistake occurred, than where our attention was focused. It is a matter of degrees of caring, not a lack of caring. Something had our attention which we chose, momentarily, to care more about.

I had a highly intelligent, adult-learning trainer on my team many years ago. Part of his job was to write proposals for his work. Another part of his job – as it was for everyone in our agency – was to ensure someone else proofed his work before sending it out. Yet he got in a rush on a deadline, and sent off an extremely articulate, brilliantly thought out, typo-ridden proposal to the Coca-Cola Company. The client politely called and informed us we would not be their selected partner, because if we took so little care to proof our work at the proposal phase, why should they expect better on the project? They were right. They did not know us, and the vessel of our introduction was riddled with the message “we could care less.”

Of course, there are some people who are just serially careless. In the psychology of transactional analysis, they are referred to as a “Schlemiel”. The Schlemiel (the careless person) spills, drops, breaks and wreaks havoc endlessly, developing a reputation for the behavior. He/she is forever demanding through their apologies that everyone he/she harms must forgive the damage out of politeness, since it is “only a mistake.” The antithesis of such a game is to not accept the apology at all, but to request that the mistake be corrected. Restoration is given precedence over absolution.

Whether the careless person is overwhelmed, like my employee, or a constantly careless, the impression they leave is the same – that they cared less. So, if you find yourself in one of those times when you keep falling victim to a series of mishaps, stop for a moment, and ask yourself, “Where is my attention right now? What am I caring about more? Is it worth it?” Then place your care where it can do the most good, and care about yourself most of all. Restore what is broken.

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