How to Deal with Mistakes at Work
- Accept that, no matter how skilled or experienced you are, mistakes happen. It’s how you deal with these mistakes that really matters.
- If possible, pre-empt possible mistakes. Learn from past errors and look out for the warning signs. This way you might be able to deal with an issue before it becomes more serious.
- If you do make a mistake, then take ownership for it from the start. Being honest and resisting the temptation to shift the blame is likely to win you the respect of your colleagues and superiors.
- Making a mistake can actually turn out to be a good opportunity to demonstrate your ability to think on your feet and make the most out of a bad situation.
- Consider that your mistake may have been at least partly caused by your work culture. Do you work too much? Is your workload too big? Addressing these possible issues can prevent future mistakes from happening.
Accept that Mistakes Happen
Even the best-skilled and most-experienced professional can still make a mistake at work. After all, they’re only human. So, accept that mistakes happen and realise from the start that it’s how you learn from errors and move forward that matters the most. Indeed, while success in the workplace is mostly down to how well you do your job, how you handle failure can also set you apart from your competitors and help you rise to the top.
Many of us are brought up to believe that making a mistake is shameful, that it is a sign of weakness. However, according to Stephen Harvard Davis, author of Why Do 40% of Executives Fail? we need to change this way of thinking and learn how to take advantage of setbacks.
Learn from your mistakes
Harvard Davis argues that making mistakes is a good thing and an important way of learning how to do things right. If you don’t make mistakes, you don’t learn, he says.
So how can you turn the mistakes that everyone inevitably makes to your advantage?
The first step is to be aware that you might fail and be prepared for it. Try to spot the warning signs – such as being given a task that you might not be able to complete. If you sense that the project will get on top of you, talk to your boss about the extra resources and skills you'll need to complete the various jobs you've been asked to do on time and within budget. You’ll gain respect for your foresight.
Be aware of common traps that can increase your chances of making a mistake. If, for instance, you work for a company with a long-hours culture, mistakes are more likely to happen, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
A survey carried out by the institute found that more than a third of people who work long hours have made significant mistakes in their jobs, compared to only a quarter of people who work shorter hours.
Don’t blame others for mistakes – even if it’s not your fault. Playing the blame game means members of your team will be less loyal to you, and they may try to make you the fall guy for future cock-ups. Talk about a team failure instead, where people share the blame as a group.
Come clean about your shortcomings. Don’t simply hope that the mistake will go away by itself, and don’t try to cover it up. Bosses don’t like surprises so if you know there will be trouble ahead, such as a failure to meet a deadline, spell it out to your superior in advance. Offer a solution if you can. It will show your boss that you’ve thought the situation through and you could pick up points for being a problem solver.
Don’t talk yourself down. It’s not good for team morale, and if you keep mentioning your mistakes your colleagues will start to believe you are somehow lacking. It’s better to apologise for something you did wrong and then forget about it.
Turn a Negative into a Positive
Making a mistake can actually turn out to be a good opportunity to demonstrate your ability to think on your feet and make the most out of a bad situation. Above all, as well as owning up to your error, offer a solution if you can. This will show your boss that you’ve thought the situation through and you could pick up points for being a problem solver.
Additionally, top HR experts advise that you should do your boss’s job for them. That is, tell them not just what went wrong but why it went wrong and what you’re going to do about it. This takes away the need for your boss to take decisive action such as reprimanding you or clearing up your mess, making everyone happy.
Try and keep a sense of humour – and a sense of perspective. Deal with a mistake and move on. If you dwell on past errors you tend to reinforce them, whereas if you focus on what you want to achieve, you’re more likely to find a positive outcome.
Use your mistakes to accomplish something new. This will build self-confidence and banish the negative memories of your previous failure.
Lastly, take comfort in the thought that your failure to get a job or a promotion is rarely the result of your mistake. It’s much more likely that someone else just had more experience.
- Fell your mistakes are down to poor working conditions? Read our guide to joining a union and see if you can change things for the better.
- Feel like you'd be better of elsewhere? Use our search tool to find a new job.
- Feel you’ve been the victim of unfair dismissal following a mistake at work? Visit the government’s website for more information on what action you can take.