Mistakes happen. And when you make a mistake at work, it could leave you feeling anxious, disappointed, or even like giving up all together. And not to mention that you may have to bear the consequences of your professional gaffe. But you need remember that there is no such thing as perfection at work, or anywhere else – at some point in our careers, everyone has stumbled, even the most conscientious employee. Sometimes it happens because we are overwhelmed, and at other times, it could be an oversight due to a judgement error. When you have “messed up” at work, and you feel like hiding in the corner of shame, it would serve you well to remember that you are not alone. Even people who are upset with your error have been there at some points (or will be). The most important thing you need to remember is not to take it too personally. And what you need to do is to make the best of the situation, and come out the other side, no matter how bad things have been. So, here are four ways to help you move on from a mistake at work, not necessarily unscathed, but definitely wiser.
- Acknowledge it
In the aftermath of your professional gaffe, every sensation is going to feel magnified. You may likely ruminate and feel too overwhelmed to move forward. This may take practice, but acknowledging the situation and owning your responsibility is much better than coming up with excuses.
Step outside and take deep breaths for a few minutes. Mindfully observe what you’re feeling, and then let it go. This not only helps you calm down; it will allow you to pause before you respond. By stepping away, you give yourself the chance to put a space between your negative emotions and yourself, and that allows you to be clear minded and focus on a solution to correct the situation, without being distracted by your feelings.
- Apologize and offer a solution
An apology conveys several major things: regret of the mistake, responsibility for it, and respect for the company and people in it. An apology also offers the opportunity for people you have inconvenienced to let go of their anger. The moment the apology is genuinely made is the moment that you can start working to rebuild any mistake.
Sincerely say the words, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake,” and offer how you plan to correct it. Resist the urge to offer excuses or to start apologizing repeatedly. On the other hand, don’t overdo it trying to make it up. Stay professional and business-minded, recognizing how valuable company time is.
Apologies cannot change the past, but you can find a solution for the here and now. One apology to the right person together with a possible solution will come across much more positively than a bunch of unnecessary filler words and statements to the entire office.
- Accept the consequences in stride.
The management can decide that you need another form of reprimanding. Or they can take you up on your offer on how you’ll correct the mistake. Whatever the case, accept the consequences and carry out your tasks without complaining.
This reinforces your apology and will likely generate additional respect. Whether it’s staying after work for a few days in order to remedy the work, reaching out to the wronged person, or going about your normal work tasks, do it and do it well. Don’t just say you’re sorry, show them through your actions. Be a better worker.
- Reflect on the situation.
Once you’ve had time to calm down and process what happened, reflect on the situation. Are you feeling overwhelmed or maybe not confident in your abilities? If so, you may need to make some adjustments in your mindset. Did you make this mistake because you lack the experience or right skill set? If so, you may need to find out more about how things work at your job. Or perhaps you’ve had an external event derail you, like waking up late and missing your bus in the morning. Whatever it may be, recognise it and look for solutions.
There is no undoing an error. Mistakes are learning opportunities for us to learn how to do things better. Do not see your error as a failure, but as an indication that you can improve on the way you work. Try your best to rectify your error, learn from it and move on, a wiser person. Sometimes, moving on may mean finding another job. If you’ve been let go or have realized that the work just isn’t quite for you, your career is not over (as long as you understand the error of your mistake). Start searching for something new right away, do not put off the job search. You’ll not only be still up to date in terms of skillset and relatability, you may be able to re-focus your energies on the new rather than dwelling on the old.