What to Do When You Make a Mistake at Work

by Marianne Stenger
Posted: June 01, 2015

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No one likes making mistakes, but in the workplace where even a small error could have far-reaching consequences and put a strain on your relationship with clients, co-workers or employers, the stakes are even higher.

The reality is, of course, that it’s impossible to avoid making a few mistakes every now and then, so what can you do when this happens to you? Here are a few tips for tackling workplace errors the right way.

1. Assess the situation

When you realise that a mistake has been made, take a moment to assess the situation before rushing off in a panic to tell your boss or co-workers.

Of course they do need to know about it, but you don’t want them to think you can’t handle stressful situations without falling apart, so take a moment to compose yourself, determine how serious the mistake is and think of a few actionable steps you can take towards fixing the problem before you approach them about it.

2. Acknowledge your mistake

Trying to cover up a mistake or ignoring it in the hopes that no one else will notice is the worst thing you can do. Not only could the problem end up getting worse when left unaddressed, but if the higher ups have to hear it from someone else or discover it on their own, your credibility could be called into question, especially if it’s obvious that you were aware of the error.

3. Avoid making excuses

Once you’ve admitted your mistake, it’s best not to apologise by saying “I’m sorry, but...” Blaming other people or circumstances for what happened will only make it seem like you are unwilling to take responsibility for your actions.

Perhaps you really were feeling under the weather or genuinely didn’t see that important email until after you sent off the report, but whatever the case may be, it is important to apologise sincerely and acknowledge your role in the situation without trying to place the blame on someone or something else.

4. Suggest possible solutions and ask for advice

Having a couple of solutions ready when you admit your mistake can take some of the sting out of the bad news and will show your boss that you can think on your feet and are ready to do whatever you can to make things right.

If you’re not sure how to tackle the problem, though, don’t be afraid to ask for advice and discuss the best course of action with your boss or overseer. After all, that’s what he or she is there for.

5. Learn from your mistake and move on

Try to identify why the mistake was made and how it could have been avoided. Are your work habits getting sloppy? Can you organise yourself better by using reminders, calendars and time-management apps? Are there any safeguards that can be put into place to prevent a similar problem in the future?

Remember that there’s no point beating yourself up about the fact that you made a mistake—it happens to everyone. Instead, put your energy into learning from what went wrong so you won’t make the same mistake again in the future.


Marianne Stenger

Marianne Stenger

Marianne Stenger is a London-based freelance writer and journalist with extensive experience covering all things learning and development. She’s particularly interested in the psychology of learning and how technology is changing the way we learn. Her articles have been featured by the likes of ABC Education, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and Psych Central. Follow her on Twitter @MarianneStenger.

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