How to Handle Messing up at Work

We are all human and inevitably we make mistakes, but our aversion to failure can make messing up painful, embarrassing or awkward. We may question our credibility or overcomplicate the situation by going into damage control and hastily trying to conceal our errors. Although you may be tempted to cover your tracks, it’s important to take a breath and not make any rash decisions. Own it and handle it. So how do you embody poise and confidence whilst also expressing sorry and concern? Read on for our guide to handling errors and making things right.

Process it

Nothing feels worse than that gut-punch horror at realising you’ve royally messed up. At work, the scrutiny and getting found out is unavoidable which can cause serious distress. But after a few minutes of silently repeating profanities to yourself, it’s important not to linger in that state. Instead of letting your emotions build and spiral out of control, find ways to channel them and get out the other side of mental anguish. Go for a quick run, meditate, journal and get it all out on paper or talk it over with a friend. The feeling should pass and dissipate rather than get out of control.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Confront your worst-case scenario and let yourself go to that place rather than wallow in uncertainty and in the unknown. Once you’ve allowed yourself to face your biggest fear, often it releases that enigmatic control over us. Make peace with it, and move forward. Our mind has a tendency to exaggerate the potential consequences and derail us in the process. Also remind yourself that you can survive anything and no decision has the power to take away who you are and your strengths and abilities.

Take a step back

So, you may have spilt coffee all over your boss’s laptop, or perhaps you froze in the presentation and lost a big potential client. Unless you’re perhaps a doctor or a pilot, no mistake is life or death or irreparable. Ask yourself what this mistake will actually change in your life? Will you remember this next week, next month or next year? Keeping things in perspective is vital to staying grounded and moving on.

Apologise

Don’t over dramatise the situation by apologising profusely and putting yourself down. It’s good to show remorse but you also need to demonstrate you can handle tough situations. Usually a swift, ‘I made a mistake and I’m working on correcting it ASAP.’ is enough as it acknowledges the error and allows you to move on and focus on solutions rather than dwelling on your own hurt ego.

Reflect
Assess where you went wrong and what led you to that path. By evaluating what you should have done differently, you can ensure that you don’t find yourself in a similar situation again. Perhaps you were running on little sleep, you were rushing and didn’t double check things or maybe you failed to clarify things you weren’t clear on. You could even communicate to your boss how you will ensure that there are no repeats.

Making mistakes at work doesn’t have to mean the end of your career, and if handled well; it could even impress your boss by showing a mature and responsible side to you that would have otherwise remained unseen. The truth is, everyone makes mistakes but not everyone deals with them well. By taking steps in the right direction and handling them with elegance and professionalism, you can take the focus off the error and instead highlight your ability to keep calm, find solutions and put out fires.