Have you ever experienced that sinking feeling after making a big mistake at work, especially when your teammates are counting on you to deliver at an important juncture? Your first thought is probably to think of it as a really bad nightmare, and that all you need to do to escape the horrible feeling of failure is to simply wake up. As the seconds tick by, and the enormity of your mistake gradually sinks in, you probably wish you could just disappear or never get noticed by another person, ever again.
While running away from your mistakes at work might seem like a really tempting avenue to explore, overcoming them by navigating rough waters in the right manner could end up being a far more rewarding experience. But the journey to reach the promised land of redemption can only begin at one place: a difficult, honest conversation.
Although conventional thinking might suggest making a mistake leads to an erosion of trust placed in you by your team or boss, reality indicates it is also a great opportunity to inspire them to trust you even more! Ultimately, all they want is to be assured that things won’t fall completely apart, and that you will immediately raise the alarm in case a grave error has been committed. This ensures that they don’t have to go through your output with a fine comb all the time, or double or triple-check everything you’ve done.
1. Report Promptly
Once you have realized the nature and extent of your mistake, don’t be indecisive. Take a moment to gather your thoughts, immediately make an appointment with your boss, spill the beans, and steel yourself to face the consequences, if any.
The crucial thing to note here is that you are going to have to report the mistake without any delay. Besides giving you some mental relief that everything is already out there, another important benefit to reporting promptly is: the lesser the time that passes between you committing the error and you revealing it to your higher authorities, the more time there is for your team and company to fix the problem or attempt damage limitation. So, delaying the inevitable can only make matters worse.
2. Confess Clearly
Even if you do make up your mind to confess, the way you go about doing it matters. In any difficult conversation, stating the problem in a clear and concise manner is a tough thing to do. Instead, there is a tendency to over-elaborate the story, explain the intentions while glossing over the actions, go into a defensive shell, or even attribute the mistake as a series of unfortunate events.
Instead, make your confession simply and plainly: “While I was doing A, B happened.”
Your intentions and further context can be conveyed later, but explaining the problem concisely is the most important thing you can do at that point in time. Even if you happen to know what caused the mistake, elaborate your theories at a later point. While identifying the cause is necessary, fixing the problem is of paramount importance.
3. Be A Part of the Fix
Whether it is bleeding money or ruining customer relationships or breaking regulations, mistakes have consequences for organizations. If you’ve already attempted to fix your error, explain your efforts to your boss. If you think there are some valid possibilities to explore, list them out. Say and do whatever it takes to be a part of the damage limitation processes.
If you’re new to the job, then hound your reporting manager until you familiarize yourself with fixing different problematic scenarios. After all, the first step for learning is making mistakes. The important part is what you do after making one –– will you keep repeating the same mistakes, or will you learn from them and get better.
4. Better Preparation
Once the dust settles, it is time for you to undertake a period of reflection: how to better handle a similar scenario at a later point; how to react more quickly; how to stay on top of your tasks at all times and, in the process, eliminate neglect of duty; and did you follow the right piece of advice.
Once your bosses understand the lengths to which you are going to learn from past mistakes, they will quickly conclude that you can take charge of tasks, because you own up to your mistakes and make amends and improve. Organizations that value progress are praying for such qualities in every one of their employees.