We all make mistakes at work. It’s a normal part of the job. But a mistake can leave a lasting mark on your professional relationships, reputation, or your own self confidence. That's why it's crucial to respond properly to a workplace blunder.
How you respond to a mistake can either show maturity or an inability to adapt. It can show your flexibility or it can show your lack of focus. Here’s how to quickly recover from a big mistake.
You made a mistake. Own up to it. Don’t give a dozen explanations why what happened wasn’t entirely your fault. Instead, take full responsibility for not only making the mistake, but also for fixing the outcome.
That isn't to say you shouldn't also explain yourself -- sometimes. Sometimes, people need to hear why something happened or are better off for hearing context. This is situational and depends on who you're talking to and why. Try to figure out, based on what you know about what any particular person values, what you should either say or not say when the mistake relates to you.
If you crutch on an excuse and refuse ownership, however, it will reflect poorly on you. First, it creates the notion that, since you won’t take responsibility for your mistake, others need to fix the problems that you’ve caused. Second, it makes you look incredibly defensive rather than ambitious.
Both of these behaviors only reflect poorly in you. Having others clean up after your mess only shows you to be unreliable. So instead of avoiding responsibility for a mistake, own up to it and immediately put a plan into action to fix it. At the very least, you can make your first steps towards regaining any trust you may have lost.
As you begin to face the fallout and the rebuilding process of a costly mistake, you’ll face criticism, you’ll hear negative feedback, and you’ll be given tons of advice. This will come from people who are angry with you and from people who genuinely want you to bounce back from the mistake. The best thing you can do throughout this process is to listen and ask questions.
Fixing the mistake to the best of your ability is important. Even more important is doing it collaboratively and being responsive to the advice and feedback of your peers. If someone gives you advice on how to recover, take that advice earnestly and incorporate it into your actions. Later, go back to them with a thank you and an explanation of how their advice helped.
On the other hand, if someone is just giving you a hard time, and there will occasionally be those kinds of people, it’s not worth your time or energy to get angry or indignant about their attitude. Instead, verbally own up to your mistake and ask them for feedback on what you could have done differently and what you could do better today.
And best of all, asking for and taking this feedback from others gets them invested in your rebuilding process. That's a great way to collaborate and bring people back to your side.
At the end of the day, a mistake might cause repercussions that you can’t recover from. Depending on the severity of the mistake, it can have massive downside -- you can lose credibility in the office. You can lose a good chunk of your responsibilities. You might miss out on an expected promotion. And while a proper response can get you some of the way back to normal, if it’s a particularly bad mistake, you might never fully recover.
And that’s okay! That just means that it’s time for a new beginning, both for you and for your employer. For them, it’s the opportunity to find a fresh employee they feel they can trust. More importantly, however, is what that new beginning does for you. It allows you to take the best things you did at your job and the lessons you learned from your mistakes and become a superstar employee for a new company.
So if you don’t get the opportunity to recover from your mistake, don’t fret and don’t burn any bridges. Instead, focus on yourself. Focus on continuing to do well with the responsibilities you still have, focus on doing what you can to fix the mistake, and you might want to start looking for a new job. Because sticking around where you can’t regain your credibility will only set back your career.