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Five Steps to Handling a Mistake at Work (and Making It Work For You)

Just like in life, a failure at work does not need to be the end of the world or the end of your career. While it may be difficult in the moment, try to step back and view it as an opportunity; you may come through it looking better than before the mistake was made. Here are five steps to addressing a mistake at work:

1. Own it

When faced with an error that you made, acknowledge what happened and take your share of the responsibility. If you missed a deadline or screwed up a project, fess up; don’t blame others or outside circumstances. Apologize to those it affected – whether your boss, customers or team members. Taking ownership may be more than most people will do, so you are already ahead of the game. We’re all human – almost everyone makes a mistake occasionally – but acknowledging your mistake can show strength of character, confidence and integrity.

2. Fix It

When you screw up, do whatever you can to make it right. While you are owning up to what happened, make sure to come with some viable solutions to repair the problem. For example, offer to work nights and weekends, if necessary, to make up the work or alleviate the mistake.

3. Follow up

Check with your boss and team members to make sure they are satisfied with the eventual outcome. If they are still concerned, work together to find an alternate solution. Acknowledge again that you know you goofed, but you hope you were able to make it right and you won’t let it happen again.

4. Do Not Repeat

DON’T let it happen again. Make it a priority to show you learned your lesson and do not repeat the previous blunder. For example, if you missed something in testing on a project, make sure to double- and triple-check your work in each project going forward. An honest mistake can be forgiven, but if you repeat the same error and don’t learn your lesson, it might seem like a pattern of incompetence or an unwillingness to learn, which your manager will be less likely to accept as a one-time slip.

5. Use It To Your Advantage

The best part of making a mistake at work? It’s a great story to tell when you are interviewing for your next role. If you can show how you fixed it, the lessons you learned and how you are better for it, the hiring manager will know you are being authentic and are showing qualities they would like folks on their team to possess. 

While you may want to run and hide, blame someone else or cover it up, the best way to handle a mistake at work is to own it, fix it and not do it again.

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