Mistakes at Work: How to Handle Things the Right Way

Everybody makes mitsakes (oops, that should read “mistakes”).

But while a blog typo may be easily forgiven, other mistakes on the job can have serious consequences – for you, your boss, or even the company as a whole.  And frankly, the way you handle your slip-up can be just as critical as the mistake itself.

So what should you do when you make an error at work?

  • Assess the situation.  As soon as you realize your misstep, take a minute to consider the ramifications, as well as whether or not you can correct the mistake yourself.  If you can solve it, do so immediately; but if not, take a moment to brainstorm possible solutions.  This way, when you approach your boss you’ll appear proactive and responsible.
  • Own up to it.  Never try to cover up your mistake.  If a boss finds out later that you hid a problem, it can permanently damage your credibility.  So take the initiative and bring the situation to your supervisor’s attention.  When you’re honest from the outset, your boss won’t feel the need to underscore the situation’s importance to you.
  • Take responsibility.  Don’t make excuses, act defensively or place blame elsewhere.  Negative reactions like these will cause equally negative reactions from your boss.  Instead, use your mistake as an opportunity to step up to the plate and demonstrate your responsibility and problem-solving abilities.  If someone else is involved in the mistake, encourage him or her to follow your lead and do the right thing.
  • Explain what happened and what you plan to do about it.  Once you’ve acknowledged your misstep and apologized, you must present a plan for correcting it.  You can say something like, “I’ve made a mistake and I apologize for the error.  I’ve come up with some possible solutions and would like your feedback on how to best resolve the situation.”  It’s fine to ask for help developing and implementing your solution – the key here is to not simply ask for your boss to bail you out.
  • Demonstrate that you’ve learned from your mistake.  When a mistake occurs on the job, it’s not enough to just solve it and move on.  Once you’ve resolved the problem, you need to determine what caused it in the first place – and discuss your plan to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.  Explaining to your boss what you’ve learned from your mistake demonstrates that you’re conscientious and have the organization’s best interest in mind.

You’re human.  You’ll make mistakes from time-to-time (we all do).  And if you handle a mistake at work correctly, you can turn a difficult situation into a learning experience – an experience that actually provides an opportunity to demonstrate your honesty, integrity and problem-solving ability.

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