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How to Recover from a Mistake at Work

June 27, 2022

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You’ve screwed up royally. You’ve missed an urgent deadline … yelled at a colleague … sent out the wrong sales figures … or whined about your unfair workload — within the boss’s hearing. That said, take a deep breath. Realize that you’re not alone. Everyone makes mistakes at work. As bad as you imagine things to be, they’re probably not as dire as you think. Here’s how to set things right.

Correct the mistake  

Do this as soon as possible. Fix the typo in the sales letter and resend it, along with a note of apology. If possible, call back your “reply all” email before anyone sees it. Sit down with the boss and discuss the massive amount of work on your plate and what might be done about it.

Own the mistake

Don’t hide the issue or blame others. Yes, you feel embarrassed, frustrated and angry with yourself. Let yourself sit with those emotions—for a short time. Then tell those impacted—the boss and team members (and a supplier or client after speaking with the boss)—what went wrong.

Apologize

Show sincere remorse in your apology to the injured person(s). But don’t overdo it. Repeating “I’m sorry” a dozen times not only makes you look unprofessional, it won’t repair the mistake or your relationships. Briefly explain the issue and how you have solved it or plan to solve it.

Figure out what went wrong 

Did you miss a deadline? Make a math error? Forget to pick up a personal document at the group printer? Instead of beating yourself up, consider how to ensure that this specific mistake won’t happen again. Promise yourself not to become distracted by coworkers, social media, or personal issues while on the job. Learn to slow down and be present in everything that you do.

Accept the consequences
Don’t whine or make excuses. Do whatever you are told to do. Come in early and work late. Go above and beyond on every project. Maintain a positive outlook because moping around will compound the problem.   

Recognize that you are not your mistake

Remember that we are all human, we all make mistakes, and we can all learn from our mistakes and move forward. See your mistake as an opportunity to improve, grow, and maintain the trust of your boss and your team.


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