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  • Vanessa Barajas, MPH

How To Bounce Back From A Mistake At Work

Don’t panic. Everyone makes mistakes. That's part of life. Though it feels terrible, there’s a lot to learn from making mistakes at work. Don’t let these errors limit your career growth. The next time you mess up, follow the strategies below to help you regain trust, minimize damage, and mend the situation.

Forgive yourself for mistakes at work.

After making a mistake on the job, you’ll likely feel embarrassed, worried or frustrated. Maybe you raced through your day trying to finalize a project when you suddenly realized the report you emailed out earlier had an error. Take a small amount of time to acknowledge what happened, and then let it go, because you have repairs to make. Pull yourself out of the gloom of realizing you're not perfect.

Be proactive.

Once you are aware of the mistake you have made, try to get in front of the situation before it spirals. Being proactive about addressing whatever took place demonstrates your awareness of the problem and relieves others from the potential discomfort of bringing it to your attention. Even if you are not in a leadership position, you can make an effort to reach out to those impacted by your actions, hear them out, and share a plan for improvement moving forward. If your manager or peers have sound advice, listen and be open to their ideas to resolve the issue.

Offer an apology.

Offer a genuine and humble apology, acknowledging your error and any harm you caused to the other person, team, or partner. Don’t be defensive or make your apology about yourself. What other people care about is your impact, not your intent. Avoid blaming others and the word “if”. Using the word “if” in your apology implies the other person is being irrational or overly sensitive. It does not show any ownership of any wrongdoing. Instead, fully own your mistake. Instead say, “I appreciate you telling me that. I am sorry that what I did caused harm.. I’ll be more mindful.”

Make amends with those impacted.

While it is an act of integrity and accountability to admit and apologize for your error, you will only rebuild trust if you correct the behavior or issue. Share what you learned, how it’s going to be different, and commit to doing better. (“I’m sorry. I thought it was okay to attend the call virtually from my desk. I didn’t realize everyone was expected to be in the conference room. I’ll be there from the next meeting.”)

Rebuild trust through your actions.

Be honest and try your best to communicate in a way that doesn’t leave room for misinterpretation. Be sure to honor your commitments and remember that rebuilding trust doesn’t happen overnight. Be consistent with the delivery of your great work.

Take stock of what you've learned.

This is where you can find the silver lining. This experience could reveal hiccups in your process or help you to be more careful in the future. Ask yourself, “What will I try to do differently? What still works?”

Ask peers for feedback on how you could have avoided this blunder. Check in with your manager on the aspect of your work where the error occurred. You may have thought you understood the process, only to discover you do not. Think of yourself as someone who embraces lifelong learning.

Don’t dwell. Move forward.

This mistake was one moment in your career, likely among a myriad of successes. So, get back into your daily work while applying your new insight. The bottom line is that one mistake — even a big one — doesn't have to derail your career. Focus on your ongoing self-awareness and improvement, while regaining faith in yourself and restoring it within your team. Again mistakes are part of life, and your response will demonstrate your professionalism and resilience.


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