Mistakes are unavoidable but none of us like making them. The cost is sometimes high and it’s uncomfortable to find out you’ve done something wrong. But it’s perfectly natural to make mistakes when you are experimenting and learning new things. You can either make the same mistake again or you use it as an opportunity to learn. The way you handle the mistakes you make matters.
It’s not your mistakes that define you or your career. It is how you handle them. You can either dwell endlessly on your mistakes and judge yourself harshly, or you can cover them up and pretend they didn’t happen. Neither of these approaches is helpful in the end. In fact, it is always best to own up to a mistake and learn from it.
Mistakes vary in degree and type. Some can be tougher to recover from than others. A simple mistake like forgetting to attach a document to an email is easy to remedy. However, a mistake that damages your employer’s earnings, public image or credibility is costlier and harder to recover from, but some of life’s best lessons are learned from the worst mistakes.
You can fail, even in a dramatic way, and still survive and move past it. It is possible to rectify even serious mistakes by controlling the damage and using the lessons learned to improve and grow. Here are some ways to bounce back after making a serious mistake at work when all you want to do is hide away.
1. Admit Your Mistake
Once you discover you have made a mistake, your first reaction may be to cover it up or hide it because you feel embarrassed. But trying to cover it up rarely works. When your boss finds out from someone else and not from you, it makes the situation much worse. When you own up to what you have done, you are in control of the message. As hard as it may be, you need to take a deep breath, gather your courage and talk to your boss about what has happened.
Don’t try to offer justifications for what you did or get defensive about what happened. Don’t try to shift the blame onto others and even if it was a group mistake, acknowledge your role. Trying to blame other people negatively affects the image others have of you and is unprofessional. You’ll do more damage to relationships, trust and credibility by your actions after a mistake than by the mistake itself.
When you are prepared to take responsibility and admit your mistake, it can win you the respect of your colleagues. They will appreciate the courage it took reveal your mistake. They are more likely to trust you and regard you as an upstanding, honest person. You will also feel less stress and tension once you have admitted to your mistake.
If you can explain in a non-defensive way to colleagues that you have made a mistake and why it happened, they will be more able to understand. They will also be more likely to support you in your attempts to correct it.