What to do when you make a mistake

We help you break down the insecurities getting in your way and offer tips to keep you focused.

Nothing can cause a headache faster than realizing you’ve made a mistake at work. Depending on the severity of the mistake, you might feel like the world is ending, and be tempted to curl into a ball. This is the moment when you have to muster all of the fortitude you can, own your mistake, and accept the consequences. It’s important to remember that every successful person has at some point been in the same position, and that honest mistakes can be overcome with determination, hard work, skill and talent. Yes, it’s a moment to learn a valuable lesson along the way. Here are some tips to help you as you rebuild your confidence and restore your boss’ faith:

  1. Acknowledge you made a mistake

    This might seem obvious, but acknowledging your error is important—to your colleagues and to your boss. Admitting you were wrong and are working to correct it shows maturity and accountability. Keep your apology simple and resist the urge to make excuses or repeatedly apologize.

  2. Offer a solution

    Once you’ve explained what happened, offer a plan to remedy the situation. If you’re not sure how to do that, or you need feedback, you’ll need to ask for help. Yes, you’re in a vulnerable position, and it can feel even worse to have to admit you need further assistance, but the last thing you want to do is compound the problem or make it even worse.

  3. Allow yourself to feel bad

    Accepting what happened and feeling the emotions associated are important to moving forward. You don’t want to wallow, though. Take some deep breaths and remind yourself it’s not the end of the world.

  4. Vent within your support circle

    Sharing vulnerable feelings such as shame, sadness or fear deepens the connection with those you’re close to already. It can also be helpful to open up to close confidantes in the office, which can in turn help you rebound.

  5. Step back and assess what happened

    After taking a breath, try to objectively examine what happened. It might be easier to pretend someone else was in the same spot, so you can assess what led to the mistake, what actions might have prevented it from happening, and seeing the consequences clearly.

  6. Accept the consequences, forgive yourself… and move forward

    You’ll have to accept whatever happens next and do what’s asked of you without complaint, and with the utmost professionalism. You’ll also need to forgive yourself in order to be at your most effective. If you push too hard to prove yourself, you can tense up and create more problems. Instead, focus on what you can control: staying late if needed; talking to a colleague; or performing tasks you don’t enjoy. Give your best effort, do it well, and don’t let one honest mistake define you.

Judy Smith advises Presidents, celebrities, Fortune 500 companies, and was even the real-life inspiration for Scandal’s Olivia Pope. In other words, when it comes to solving problems large and small, she’s the best. She can help you face—and overcome—the toughest challenges in your professional and personal life, so you can unleash your full potential.

Site Design Rebecca Pollock
Site Development Alchemy + Aim