How to recover from a mistake at work

ON September 13, 2018

Panic! You’ve made a mistake at work by emailing the wrong person or angered a client who now refuses to pay for your services. We’ve all been there—the dread and stress can get you so worked up that no matter what you try to do, the mistake skulks around in your head like a gloomy troll.

Despite how big or small these mishaps may seem, you don’t want your managers to lower their impression of you or reconsider your future capabilities. The right actions can rectify the issue and promote a positive mindset so you can learn from these errors.

It’s important you don’t let these mistakes upset you and, though easier suggested than done, here are some healthy ways to recover from mistakes at work.

Don’t make excuses

When it comes to admitting and owning up to your errors, don’t try and justify yourself by averting blame or responsibility. Any client would appreciate your honesty about being accountable and your manager may even advise and guide you through the situation. Besides, a problem shared is a problem halved.

Put things in perspective

In stressful scenarios, try and stay calm. Let the situation sink in; the mistake has already happened but it doesn’t mean there’s no remedy. Don’t rush to fix the problem because you may just complicate the situation, but don’t avoid any attempt at damage-control either.

Allow some time to think through any actionable solutions. Alternatively, explain the situation to anyone trustworthy and competent before enlisting their help. Suggest your solutions and take their advice.

Remember—even Albert Einstein said ‘a person that never made a mistake, never tried anything at all’

Apologies go a long way but actions go further

Sometimes, a simple ‘Sorry’ can diffuse the situation. People can be too proud to admit they created a monumental mess or will ruin an apology with an excuse. Understand that when clients or colleagues are upset by your actions, they simply want you to admit your mistake and correct the issue. Mistakes happen and a good manager, colleague or client will recognise that. Apologies, while great, aren’t as satisfying as correcting the error. You can’t fix every situation to everyone’s approval, but you should sort out problems when possible.

Put yourself back in the good books

After rectifying the issue, you can earn yourself a bookmark inside the good books. The best way to earn back admiration is to consistently deliver great work. One mistake doesn’t define you—it’s about how you get past this. Don’t shy away from job opportunities. Though you may want to lay low until you regain your confidence is restored, volunteer to take on new projects or help out with any tasks. This can also take your mind off what happened.

Don’t beat yourself up

Reliving your mistake is natural, but don’t dwell on it for too long. It’s not like you just single-handedly caused world hunger and the best way to move on is to learn from your mistake and get over it. As blunt as that may sound, you can’t let it consume you forever. Once the issue has been resolved, let it go.

Avoid the same mistake

Here’s where you evaluate what happened. If you don’t know how or why you made the mistake, you won’t be able to prevent it again. If the error was genuinely out of your hands, approach the person who can resolve it. However, if the mistake was within your control because you were unfamiliar with a certain protocol, update yourself with training.

When problems occur, remember to keep an open line of communication with your colleagues and managers. After all, we are only human so it’s about how we handle the situation.

Barack Obama once said, ‘Don’t let your failures define you, let them teach you.’

No matter what, you can learn from your mistakes.

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