Your association board has been approached to make a statement about Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI/DEI). In feeling the pressure to do something, members of the board create a statement and post it on the association’s website. A group sees this post and starts posting negative comments on social media, challenging what was said. The board recognizes they acted in haste, without realizing the implications, and how others may interpret the statement. Subsequently, they regret their decision.

Regret is associated with unpleasant emotions, like sadness, disappointment, and guilt. Nevertheless,  it can also be considered to be the oxymoron of emotions, while negative it can also be beneficial and one we can learn from. Regret reminds us to think carefully about our decisions and how they affect us. Feelings associated with regret help us to learn not to make the same mistakes again and to achieve a different result.

“I made decisions that I regret, and I took them as learning experiences… I’m human, not perfect, like anybody else” – Queen Latifah.


The Nature of Regret

Regret can come in different forms. We may regret something we did, like lashing out at an association member or something we didn’t do, like not taking a stand when it truly mattered. Most people experience a mixture of both, and both forms can be present in the same situation.

Our regrets can teach us about ourselves, each other and encourage us to make better decisions in the future. For example, if we regret cutting off a fellow member in a meeting, we may pause at the next meeting and respond better by truly listening to what they have to say.

If you understand how regret works, appreciate the effect it has on your decision making, and find ways to manage disappointments, you can suffer less from regret. Instead, you can use your regrets as helpful guidelines for you and your association.


Some People Suffer from Regret More Than Others

  • If you can’t tolerate uncertainty, you may be more inclined to avoid making hard choices, leaving yourself vulnerable to later regrets
  • If you have a negative bias and can’t see the positive or feel you can’t handle it if something goes wrong, this will affect how much you suffer from regret
  • Worrying about “buyer’s remorse” or how bad you’ll feel in the future.If you often think you’re going to feel awful for making a choice, it may keep you from deciding on a direction that can be positive
  • Having too many choices can increase the potential for making the wrong one
  • Being a perfectionist. If you expect the ideal outcome all the time and are not easily satisfied, you’ll be more prone to regret


How Regret Can Guide Our Decisions

It’s important to accept tradeoffs and compromises. Not everything has to or will turn out just the way you wanted it to. Once you’ve learned the lessons regret can teach you. You can let go of unrealistic expectations about what might have been. Remember, there’s no guarantee that things will have worked out differently or better.

Making mistakes is simply a part of life; we need to own them. Some regret is inevitable, and we should see a bad decision as an opportunity to learn. Conversely, if we completely ignore our mistakes and feelings of regret, we will not grow as a leader, personally or professionally. For more on leadership, read Association Leadership Traits: Do You Have What It Takes to Lead?

  • Share your regrets to help other leaders within the association. This will help them too if they’ve faced similar decisions
  • Focus on the good decisions and things you did well. Even in a regrettable situation, there are things that you did right
  • Take positive action to right the wrongs
  • If negative thoughts are taking over, take a moment, take a breath, and practice some mindfulness techniques. Read more on Mindfulness & The Association Leader

What could your association Board have learned from the above scenario regarding a statement around EDI/DEI? In future, when faced with pressure to act quickly, perhaps the Board needs to take a moment to fully understand all the implications of their decision and ask the following questions. Would it be beneficial to ensure that the entire Board is involved in making decisions on EDI/DEI? Would some training on EDI/DEI have been helpful? Should the Board perhaps have asked for outside expert help in writing a statement to be posted on the association’s website?

Most of us can’t predict the future, and hindsight is always 20/20. Sometimes life gives us lemons regardless of thoughtful and careful planning. As you move forward, it’s important to focus on the things that you can control, not the things that you can’t. We can’t change the past, but we can change the future.