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February 19, 2016 | 5 min read
Make a Mistake at Work? What you Should—and Shouldn’t—Do

Tandym Group

“We all make mistakes.” It’s a comforting notion we often hear when we’re being particularly hard on ourselves, but sometimes, we make big mistakes that warrant a bit of worrying—ones that could potentially affect our careers.

When this happens, it’s easy to get down on ourselves, act out of desperation, and possibly irritate matters. But that’s the worst thing to do; instead, the best way to bounce back from a big career mistake is to take a step back, assess the situation, and only proceed once we have a handle on our emotions.

Should you find yourself in a predicament—whether you disrupted an important meeting, missed a hard deadline, etc.—here are some basic do’s and don’ts to help you recover from your mistake and move on:

Do take a breather. Immediately after the big “oops,” you may find yourself overwhelmed and ready to act immediately. Instead, give yourself some time to process what’s happened and analyze the situation; acting out of panic might cause you to make the situation worse or even create a new problem. In many cases, you may over-apologize or bring even more attention to the matter, two things you’d be best to avoid in the aftermath.

Don’t make excuses. Even worse than over-apologizing or scrambling is to not apologize at all and fabricate reasons as to why it’s not your fault. If it was truly your mistake, accept it. Employers will usually know if you’re sincere and don’t take kindly to employees who can’t be honest.

Do admit to your mistake. Not only should you avoid excuses, you should proactively admit to making the mistake you did—if possible, before others notice it. This will show that you’re willing to step up and accept any consequences that may come your way and won’t shrug them off onto any undeserving parties.

Don’t try to avoid it. Just like making excuses, avoiding the mess and hoping nobody noticed it is only going to hurt you. If it’s a big enough problem for you to fret over, it’s often big enough that someone has noticed or will, and walking away in the midst of trouble will make you look bad.

Do try to fix it, but accept that it might be too late. Your best bet is to show that you’re willing to genuinely try to fix the problem. However, if it’s unfixable, it’s time to move on and figure out how to deal with the repercussions.

Don’t beat yourself up. Even if the issue was clearly avoidable, don’t deny yourself forgiveness or bash yourself over it. How are your coworkers and employers supposed to forgive you if you can’t forgive yourself?

Do let your supervisor know how you’ll avoid it in the future. Not only should you figure this out for yourself, you should communicate it to whoever is in charge to make it known that you’re aware there’s an issue and that you won’t let it happen again. At the very least, you’ll be showing that you can have more foresight in the future and will be more mindful.

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