- By Rose Kennedy For the AJC
To err is human and every human's workday is full of the easily-corrected, quickly forgotten type of mistakes. But when you screw up big time on the job, you're facing a much more difficult challenge.
"If we make mistakes in our personal lives, we can cope by working through it with the people closest to us," noted LinkedIn influencer Ilya Pozin, founder of Ciplex. "But if we make a mistake at work, we often jeopardize our professional reputation. And your professional reputation is essentially the foundation upon which your personal brand rests."
No one's saying you meant to lose the client, forget the materials in a city far from the presentation, wreck the tow truck or accidentally send a blistering email about your boss to the whole office. And if everyone quit immediately after making a big mistake at work, most people probably wouldn't have jobs for long.
The better option: bounce back. "It is in your best interest to limit the damage from a mistake and, most importantly, learn all you can from it," noted John Caddell, analytic services leader at Nexidia, posting at 99u.
Step back and breathe.
This first step is essential, according to Pozin.
"It can be easy to get worked up over our own failings, but we can't internalize self-hate when we make mistakes. Don't take action until you assess the situation and take a moment to clear your head. "Even if the problem is big, being overly stressed or anxious impedes your ability to think clearly and bounce back quickly," Pozin added.
Once you've settled down a bit, take the time to map out what went down during your mistake, University of Minnesota management professor Alfred Marcus told Entrepreneur. Think about what went wrong and why. "Don't rationalize it away," Marcus said. He also suggested asking a mentor or friend with an outside perspective to keep you accountable.
Foster a sense of urgency.
Don't let your mistakes simmer, however much you'd like the whole situation to disappear without any effort from you. "Work mistakes aren't the end of the world," Pozin stated. "Still, healing mistakes does require action on your part. Own up to your mistakes sooner rather than later if you want continued trust from your higher-ups and fellow employees."
Own your mistake.
So you feel like circumstances were against you, or somebody you were counting on failed you, or you were having a bad day? Too bad, Caddell said. "According to Justin Menkes' wonderful book Better Under Pressure, truly great leaders don't blame others when things go wrong," he noted. "They instead have a high 'sense of agency,' which is 'the degree to which people attribute their circumstances and the outcomes they experience to being within their own control.'"
Put aside any urges to place blame on others, even if it's convenient and might go over with the rest of your work group, Pozin advised. "This will only worsen your situation, and can lead others to distrust you in the future."
Offer a fix.
"Healing work mistakes means being proactive about coming up with a solution," Pozin advised. "Offer a few solutions to your boss, manager, or co-worker, but be open to their feedback, too. If you've gotten yourself into a mess, you may need help to get out of it."
Avoid the temptation to be a "quiet fixer," added Caddell. "Mistakes often have side effects, and pretending that it didn't happen is dangerous."
Take a lesson from former Toyota chairman Katsuaki Watanabe. "If problems are revealed for everyone to see, I will feel reassured," he told Harvard Business Review. "Once problems have been visualized, even if our people didn't notice them earlier, they will rack their brains to find solutions to them."
Make it a real apology, Caddell advised, like, "I'm sorry I caused your group all that downtime." Avoid apologies that sound "lame and self-protective," he added. Don't say, "I wish it hadn't happened," for example.
Address the root cause.
Make it a habit to systematically reflect on your mistakes and you'll soon see patterns in your performance that contribute to the errors, Caddell advised. "And once you realize that, you are well on the way to fixing that pattern."