Making Mistakes at Work – And How to Deal with Them
Legendary business writer and corporate trainer, Dale Carnegie, said that successful people profit from their mistakes and try again differently. Like any good maxim, such advice cuts right to the core, and you know it’s true – or should be true – until the day you actually make a mistake. On that day, repeating any self-help guru’s sound bites in your head is not likely to fill that pit in your stomach. Making mistakes at work is any employee’s fear, and like any employee, you’re only human and therefore bound to make mistakes. Hence, the first step to profiting from your mistakes is accepting that you’ll make them. But what about the nitty-gritty of coping with making mistakes at work? Here’s a practical guide:
Tell your manager – right away
If you realize you’ve made a mistake at work, don’t delay in telling your supervisor. The longer you wait, the less responsible you’ll look. Own your mistake and make it known to all of the appropriate people.
Apologize – in person – and acknowledge the inconvenience you’ve caused
When you tell your superior(s) about what happened, remember to say you’re sorry both for the mistake and the extra work that needs to be done to correct it. And face your problems figuratively and literally by doing so in person. Hiding behind the phone – or worse, email – will only make you look timid and unable to accept complete accountability – not exactly the feature of a future leader.
Stay calm when delivering the news
Now that you know what to say, you need to know how to say it. Chances are your heart will skip a beat once you realize your mistake. That’s exactly the time not to approach your boss. If you enter their office stressed out, you’ll stress them out, which can only amplify the situation. Calm yourself and know that if you remain calm when you break the news, chances are they will too.
Don’t downplay the significance of the mistake
While you need to remain calm when informing people of your mistake, don’t act like it’s no big deal, especially if it is one. If you’renonchalant about it, your manager and coworkers will wonder if you really understand what you did and whether you’ll continue carelessly making mistakes at work. Make sure you’re calm, but that you also understand the gravity of the situation. That way, your manager won’t respond with a wince-inducing reinforcement of your slip-up. In fact, acting apathetic can easily evoke the opposite of calm in your boss.
Explain, but don’t excuse
Making excuses is childish. Do your best to earnestly explain what happened and why.
Refrain from the blame game
Even more childish than making excuses is trying to blame someone else for your mistake. C’mon: deep down, you know the reason you’re so upset in the first place is because you know it’s your fault. Trying to throw others under the bus will only compound the problem, needlessly diminishing your trustworthiness even further – and consider that maybe, just maybe, your one mistake hasn’t diminished your trustworthiness at all.
Propose a solution and make it happen
If you can think of a way to correct your mistake before bringing it to anyone’s attention, make sure you mention it after you apologize. If it involves working evenings and weekends to get it done, do it. Promptly proposing a solution shows that you’re accountable, proactive, and a problem solver. Sure, you may be solving a problem you caused, but if you do what needs to be done to fix it successfully, you may be seen as someone who’ll know how to fix other problems too.
Accept the consequences
Even if you do everything above correctly, you have to accept that there may still be reprimands for your mistake, formal and/or informal. A formal one could be a written warning, while an informal one could be a loss of trust. Every tip above is crucial to retaining and rebuilding trust, and the newer you are at a place or in a role, the more important it will be for you to reestablish your trustworthiness. If, however, you have a long track record of not messing up, the following and final tip should be especially easy to follow.
Don’t forget, but forgive
You can’t change the past. Learn from your mistake and use that knowledge to create a brighter future. In keeping with Carnegie’s idea, people really do underestimate the value of mistakes. Think: does the error you made really outweigh the fact that you’ll never make it again?