8 Tips to Handling Mistakes in the Workplace

– Kate Berg

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

– Robert Burns (Standard English translation)

It’s no secret. As human beings, we are prone to making mistakes. As Robert Burns points out in his poem “To a Mouse”, even our best plans can go wrong. So what do you do when you make a mistake, especially in the workplace?

Our tendency is probably to cringe, and either act like it didn’t happen or shift the blame onto something or someone else. I’d like to reiterate some tried and true advice from the experts on what to do when those pesky mistakes rear their heads.

1.    Accept that making mistakes happen.

While mistakes do happen, you can make an effort to avoid many. When given a task, ask for clarification if needed. No questions are silly or stupid. As my teachers used to say, the only stupid question is the unasked question. If you need to know something to complete a task, it is better to ask before you start working on it than face errors in the future.

2.    When a mistake does occur, admit it immediately.

Swallow your pride, your embarrassment, and maybe your fear and confess to your boss as soon as you realize you made a mistake. The sooner a mistake is admitted to, the sooner it can be remedied. The situation only gets worse if you wait to deal with it.

3.    Don’t make excuses (even if you have legitimate ones).

Sometimes life gets in the way and things happen that are unavoidable. But whatever you do, don’t offer these excuses to explain away the mistake. Even valid excuses will make it seem like you are trying to avoid the blame. Your boss just wants to know what you are going to do to fix the problem. So get over it, take full responsibility and work on solving the problem.

4.    Do everything in your power to make it right.

Do whatever you can to fix the mistake. Stay late to finish a project, call or email the affected people to alert them to the mistake and let them know what steps are being taken to correct it, stop the problem from spreading and do everything you can to make sure this kind of mistake doesn’t happen again.

5.    Be prepared for the repercussions.

Even if you do everything you can to be forthright, apologetic and to fix the damage, you need to brace yourself for the fact that you will be suffering some sort of consequence for what happened, whether it is being fired or rebuilding trust with your boss. Learn from your mistake, be patient and continue to work hard.

6.    Celebrate your mistake. 

By celebrating our mistakes, we actually tend to make fewer of them later, we create learning opportunities and we develop a chance to strengthen creativity. To read more about celebrating mistakes, click here

7.    Take a breath.

Work environments can be fast-paced and stressful. Stress can cause more mistakes because you are not thinking clearly. Find something that relaxes and energizes you. Listen to some music, take a few deep breaths or step out of the room for a few minutes to recharge.

8.    Go easy on yourself.

We all make mistakes, even whoppers of mistakes. It’s part of being human. Don’t compare yourself to others. Each of us has our own strengths, weaknesses and experiences. Focus on individual growth and development. Yes, you should examine what you did wrong so you can do better in the future, but don’t dwell on it or beat yourself up too hard over it. In the grand scheme of things, you will be okay.

How did you handle your biggest mistake in the workplace? Tell us what happened and what you learned from it!