There isn’t a person on this planet who wakes up from their slumber, stretches out their arms, lets out an audible yawn and says, “I can’t wait to make my first mistake of the day!” As a matter of fact, we spend the majority of our lives dreading those inevitable missteps, doing everything in our power to remain absolutely perfect. The problem is, that’s not realistic. At some point in time — likely more often than we hope — we will all err.
I know that’s not what you want to hear — and this isn’t going to be a checklist on how to live a perfect life. No, the topic I’d like to delve into is one that makes most people squirm: making mistakes at work. And not just any mistakes, but those mistakes that leave you wondering if you should just grab a box and start packing.
So here you are, reading this article while still sulking over that huge blunder you’ve just caused. Don’t go burying your head beneath the sand — instead, take a look at these five steps to help you recover from (most) mistakes in the workplace.
I’m not saying this because you’re likely hyperventilating — but if you are, please breathe for that reason as well. I want you to realize that Albert Einstein spoke the truth when he said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” And that’s the truth! Understand that even if you’ve just committed the godfather of all mistakes, there is likely someone who, in turn, has simultaneously committed the godmother of mistakes. You’re not alone… you’re just human. In order to move forward, you must be able to maintain composure.
2. Own It.
Once you’re able to think rationally, the next step is to be able to call the mistake your own. Identify what went wrong and what role you played. If you were part of a team, were you the lead? Were there other members with equal responsibility? I’m not suggesting that you lay down as a martyr, but I am telling you that you must be able to admit to wrongdoing in order to start to move forward.
3. Make a Plan.
The beauty of all mistakes is that each one is an honest-to-goodness learning experience. Your parents knew what they were talking about when they said the best part of a mistake is the ability to learn from it. Analyze how you could have prevented the mistake and what you are willing to do to make sure you avoid something similar in the future.
4. Have “The Talk.”
Now that you are comfortable admitting the mistake, go to your manager to discuss the incident. First and foremost, say you’re sorry. If it really was a mistake, you should be sorry, so this should be easy. Be prepared to explain the circumstances that led to the issue, no matter the severity. Your manager should have no doubts that you understand what led to the error. Additionally, if you have an action plan to help avoid the mistake, lay it out, step by step. While you may have done a thorough root cause analysis, don’t be alarmed if your boss offers a few additional suggestions as to what you could have done better.
5. Set it in Motion.
The biggest way to shove this behind you is to follow through on the plans you’ve drawn. Failure to follow through — or even worse, repeating the same mistake, will not bode well for your integrity and the trust you want your employer to have in your abilities.
While I can’t speak to any one manager or organization, I can safely say that good — and even great — employers know that all employees have the potential to make mistakes. Some will be small, some will be large, but in the end, they are a part of life. Remember that, with time, even the greatest of mistakes can be overcome.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michelle Kruse has helped countless job seekers find success as the editor and content manager at ResumeEdge. With more than 10 years of experience recruiting for companies like Novartis and IBM, she has firsthand experience of what recruiters are looking for, and she shares that insight with those who need it most. She writes regularly to provide advice on resume writing and interviewing not only because it’s her job, but because it’s her passion.