Mistakes happen. To everyone. But I’d be lying if I said that makes me feel better when they happen to me. When I make a mistake at work, I usually get a pit the size of a basketball in my stomach, I start to sweat, and I work very hard to fend off any potential tears. It’s not pretty.
The truth is, however, that mistakes WILL happen, even to the most careful of employees. And when they do occur, no amount of sweating or tears will make it better. So, how do you handle making a mistake? Below is my go-to action plan:
Step 1: Panic. I don’t love this step, but it’s usually the first thing I do when I realize I’ve messed something up. As mentioned above, sweating and crying may be involved. Maybe an expletive or two. But, the trick is to not let this step last more than a few minutes. I usually let it run as long as it takes me to take a walk to the restroom or talk to a colleague about the problem.
Step 2: Own It. This is the part where I come clean. This step is also not my favorite, but it’s important. Managers want to trust that you know what you’re doing, but they also want to know that they can trust you to be open and honest with them when things don’t go as planned. I almost always let my manager know in person, or if that’s not possible, over the phone, and I always include a sincere apology. This is followed by step 3.
Step 3: Fix It. I always try to have a solution in mind before I let my manager know about my error. Coming prepared with a solution lets my manager know that I’m taking proactive steps to correct my mistake, and that I have an action plan so that they don’t have to step in to clean up my mess. On the occasions where I’ve actually needed my manager’s help to fix my mistake, I’ve always made sure to offer to do as much of the work as possible to keep their involvement minimal (e.g., identifying all of the steps necessary to correcting the mistake and briefing all of the people who might potentially be involved).
Step 4: Learn From It. While nobody likes to mess up, the reality is that mistakes are our biggest learning opportunities. I try to always glean a lesson I can learn from the mistakes that I make and figure out how to avoid making them again in the future. For example, I was recently in charge of putting together an internal event. While it went well overall, I made some missteps that kept things from going as smoothly as I would have hoped. After the event, I put together what I called an “Event Action Plan” that listed in painstaking detail all of the steps I would need to take in order to execute a flawless event. It took me a long time to create, but I now refer to it every time I plan event, and it’s helped to make my event planing so much more successful.
How do you deal with making a mistake at work?