Making mistakes sucks. It’s embarrassing, it’s awkward, and in the worst cases, it leads to some detrimental, unfixable problems. We’ve all heard horror stories about someone making a slight error in their work that ended up costing them their job.
Unfortunately, we’re all human, and because of that, mistakes are absolutely unavoidable. In fact, I’d make the argument that they’re not only unavoidable, they’re necessary. We all know how to reasonably handle the small mistakes, but the big mistakes are much harder to cope with. Though mistakes make you feel vulnerable and exposed, they also allow for more growth and learning.
Instead of resisting mistakes — even the big mistakes — lean into them with these tips:
1. Own Up ASAP
Let go of your pride, take a deep breath, and fess up. If you make a big mistake that could negatively impact your team or your client, address it right away and let your manager know. Let’s say you slipped and said something wrong to a client, or you promised you’d deliver something by a deadline you know you won’t make. Instead of waiting until you’re caught, hoping it won’t get acknowledged, talk to your manager ahead of time so they can help you brainstorm and problem solve. (Not to mention, your manager will be a lot less likely to be super angry with you if they find out from you instead of your client.) It’s much easier to manage a mistake when your team has time to get out ahead of it than it is once you’re cornered by the mistake and caught without a response.
2. Apologize Well
Notice this heading isn’t “Grovel to Your Boss” or “Wallow in Self-Pity.” Notice it also isn’t “Defend, Defend, Defend.” Apologize, and mean it. If it’s a big mistake, acknowledge the people it could negatively impact. There’s no need for self-deprecation, and there’s no need to defend the reason behind the mistake – this will only showcase that you have a shallow understanding of what happened. Centering the conversation around how your actions have impacted others will show you understand the depth of your mistake, not just the impact it has on you.
3. Act Now
Now that you’ve fessed up and apologized, act immediately. You have the hardest part out of the way, now it’s time to take care of it. Maybe it’s drafting an email to your client, or maybe it’s resetting a deadline you can realistically make. Whatever solution you formulate to remedy the problem, it’s important that you implement it in a timely manner.
4. Ask for Feedback
Just because you’ve fixed the issue doesn’t mean you’re necessarily done. Following up with your boss should be your next step. Use this as an opportunity to address what could’ve been done better, brief them on the steps you’ve taken to remedy the situation, and ask for any general feedback for your work. The important thing here is to be ready to listen to the feedback. Be ready to hear things that might sting. Having an open, honest conversation about what happened will be super nerve-racking, but the more you practice this type of vulnerability, the more graceful you’ll become at mistake-making (and fixing).
5. Go Easy On Yourself
It’s important through this whole process to not beat yourself up about what happened. Allowing yourself to spiral down a self-deprecating hole won’t prove to be productive, and will only leave you distracted and frustrated. You are absolutely allowed to feel upset and angry, but don’t let the things you say to yourself extend past fact-based statements and into self-hate. Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can, and no one is being as hard on you as you are being for yourself.