“How many people are completely successful in every department of life? Not one. The most successful people are the ones who learn from their mistakes and turn their failures into opportunities.” ~ Zig Ziglar, Author & Speaker
We’ve all done it. Yes, even you. It doesn’t happen often (you hope), but when it does, it is the worst feeling in the world. The stomach gets tight, the mouth gets dry, and the mind starts going a hundred miles an hour (160.93 km/hour if you’re outside the US). You beat yourself up unmercifully.
That’s right; you’ve made a mistake at work. Oh, the horrors, how will you ever survive? It could be you forgot to place that important order, sent an email to someone who should not have been copied, missed a meeting, or heaven forbid, misspelled a word and forgot to spell check.
It doesn’t matter if you are a front or back of the house employee, middle manager, executive or owner, there are things you can do to mitigate the circumstances and come out of this looking like a true professional. The last time I checked, we were all human, which means we all make mistakes. (Except for my wife, she has yet to make any mistakes; at least that’s what she’s told me.) Some are small and affect no one, while others are big whoppers and can cause massive problems affecting corporate earnings or company credibility.
The worst thing you can do is overreact. Here are a few steps to help the situation:
- That’s right, just breathe for a few seconds. Now that you’ve taken a few breaths, allow yourself to feel bad about what happened. Okay, that’s long enough. You can feel bad for no more than 15 seconds. After that, it’s a waste of time for you and everyone around you. If you continue to beat yourself up, you may want to take a walk around the block, go to the gym, call a friend, or visit your therapist. (Everyone has a therapist, right?)
- Analyze possible solutions. If this is a mistake that can be addressed right away, then act immediately. If not, contact the one person (manager, boss, co-worker) who is affected the most and let them know what happened. Discuss the possible solutions you have already come up with. Most people do not want more problems thrown at them, they want to hear about solutions.
- Apologize if necessary, but don’t overdo it. Be quick and be brief. Apologizing repeatedly makes everyone uncomfortable. Most importantly-don’t blame others. Admit it and move on. Accept responsibility. And by all means, be authentic. Everyone will see right through you if you are not sincere.
- Devise a plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Above all else, learn from the mistake and how it can be avoided in the future.
- Earn back trust through your work, not your mouth. Every mistake is an opportunity to grow and learn.
If you’re an executive, manager or supervisor, make sure your team knows it’s okay to slip up. The worst thing is to have a work environment where people are afraid to make mistakes. The most important aspect is to learn and do whatever is necessary to make sure it is not repeated.
Just like you will be forgiven for your mistake, make sure you forgive yourself, unless your mistake caused the destruction of the planet, which I don’t think happened.
And definitely make sure you return the favor by practicing forgiveness when the next person makes a mistake. (That last sentence was for my wife as my next mistake will probably be in just a few minutes).
Please remember, it’s not the mistake that matters, it’s how you react to the mistake which will show your co-workers and management the real, authentic you.