Work mistakes happen. No matter how good you are, sooner or later you will mess up. And that’s fine. It’s what happens afterwards that matters most, in my opinion. When I make a mistake, for me, personally it’s all about letting it sink in for a moment, coming up with a plan of action, and then moving on. These are the three steps that I take when I realized I made a mistake at work and they help me every single time. Scroll down to see the details of how to handle mistakes at work.
How to handle mistakes at work in three steps:
- Step one. First, I usually just need to take a moment and let it sink in – let my embarrassment sink in, to be very honest. I have different coping mechanisms for this depending on my environment. Maybe take a breath of fresh air, freshen up in the restroom or vent out to a trusted person. Over time, I realized that I really need to take this minute or two to feel it, so I can then switch into action mode. I think it’s a normal, human reaction and it also enables me to gather my thoughts and switch into problem-solving mode.
- Step two is to immediately come up with a plan and get to action. As you might guess, I don’t like to feel like I’ve messed up – hence the need for my ritual in point 1 – but it’s really not avoidable, and getting comfortable with the idea is a must. This is usually my favourite part because I get to switch into problem-solving mode at the millionth power and come up with a plan of action in a matter of minutes. Again, making mistakes is fine, it’s the solution or the next step what really matters and what people around you will appreciate. Things can always go sideways – either because you have messed up or someone else – but being able to come up with a solution and minimise the damage is essential.
- Step three. Last, make sure to always inform the people affected by the mistake – delay/change of plan/etc – and let them know of the next steps and resolutions. Time is usually precious in these moments and the faster you react, the better, as you can minimize most damage – at least in my line of work. (Over)communicate but do not (over)apologize. People – managers, clients – generally appreciate transparency and proactivity but there is no need for you to position yourself as a “mat”. State the facts, the solution, and move on. If you are in a more junior position, making sure you align the solution with your manager/team is also key. Communication & transparency are generally your two best friends here.
I’ll be honest, when I make a mistake, I really feel it. I’m a people pleaser that has performed above and beyond my whole life – from childhood to adulthood – and acknowledging a mistake can sometimes feel heavy, let alone have that being pointed out by somebody. Now that I think about it, I think it explains why I am always so solution-oriented. Whenever something doesn’t feel like it’s going right, I am usually quick to forging a new way so I can continue to “shine”.
Over the years, I’ve become better at handling my own mistakes and it’s good to reflect back and see that it also comes with upsides, like my problem-solving skills. Yes, I need to dwell on it for a little but then, I really force myself to move on and never look back. Making sure you don’t let mistakes take a toll on you is essential. It’s alright to feel embarrassed or cry or whatever you need to feel for a moment so you release it, but then remember to take the lesson and move on. It’s the only way to stay sane and keep moving forward.
How do you handle mistakes at work? Do you have any other tips to share?