From disseminating an incorrect company report to sending an email to the wrong recipient to lashing out on Facebook… and having your boss see your comments.
Everyone from entry-level staff to the CEO slips up once in a while. When you make workplace mistakes, your first instinct may be to hide it or pretend it didn’t happen. That’s the wrong reaction. It’s possible to make a comeback from mistakes big or small, but you have to own up to them and know what the next steps are.
Here are seven tips to help you recover, learn and move on.
It’s not the end of the world
Don’t let career mistakes get you down for long. As Winston Churchill once said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going. There’s no need for pessimism: Your blunder hasn’t ruined your professional reputation for life. A thick hide and a never-give-up attitude are two of the greatest career assets you can develop.
Own up and ask for forgiveness
Career experts say that after a major lapse in judgment, the first step is to admit it to the people involved – colleagues, managers, clients or other stakeholders. Think Japanese assemblyman Akihiro Suzuki, who heckled a female assembly party member from the opposition. He later bowed and offered his apologies to her in public.
Offer your apology sincerely, admitting your mistake and giving context if necessary. Be honest and humble, not defensive. Don’t cover up, scapegoat, make excuses or rationalise your error.
Keep your cool
When dealing with your mistake, stay calm and professional. Even if you’re humiliated, don’t get emotional, which will make others uncomfortable. A mature approach will help resolve the situation, whereas a dramatic response might make things worse. If you need to cry or yell, go somewhere private, away from your office and coworkers. Turn to your personal support network – your friends and family – if you need help dealing with the aftermath.
Clean up your own messes
Not all mistakes are fixable, but if they are, you owe it to your company and your career to minimise the damage. For example, if you caused a time-sensitive package to miss the last mail pick-up, do whatever it takes to make sure it arrives on time. If that’s not possible, be the one to contact the recipient, apologise and give an updated delivery date.
Practice prudence when discussing workplace mistakes: Keep interpersonal conflicts or negative feelings confidential, and work toward a resolution only with the people invested in the outcome. Practice tact and diplomacy. Discussing a problem publicly or online, even if you yourself did not initiate the conversation, reflects poorly on you and does not help matters. If you start hearing gossip about your mistake, a one-on-one approach is much better than a group confrontation.
Life is full of second chances
Saying something or doing something wrong is common when you just started at a new workplace. Especially when you are still foreign to the organisational culture. But these aren’t massive, career-jeopardising errors, and managers often chalk them up to nervousness or first-day jitters. If you go the extra mile to make a good second impression, most people will be happy to go along. A healthy and even humorous approach to workplace mistakes will minimise lasting damage to your professional relationships.
Embrace the learning opportunity
Not learning from your career mistakes is a wasted opportunity. Instead of forgetting about them right after the problem is fixed, let them serve as difficult but necessary lessons.
Those wrong calculations in the report? That will teach you to double and triple-check equations and numbers, and ask your supervisor or colleague to give them another once-over. The errant email? Type in more than a few letters on a name and look at the full name that’s finally populated before hitting “Send”. Your serious social media gaffe? Operate under the assumption that everything you post or tweet will be seen by your colleagues, and resolve to never write negative comments about your boss or workplace again. If you must rant, do so with a couple of trusted friends, in person and away from the office.
You’re human, and slip-ups are inevitable. However, what you do have control over is what you do afterwards. Workplace mistakes can spiral out of control and sink your career, or you can learn from the experience and become a better employee. The decision is up to you.