Tuesday, September 4, 2007

When You Make a Mistake at Work

It’s always tough to mess up at work. Feelings can range from chagrin over committing a blunder to outright fear that you might be fired for your mistake.

Still, it’s important that you have a plan of action for when you goof up. Without one, you may panic and make the error worse, or do nothing, which can always come back to haunt you.

Some plans of action for recovering from making a mistake include:

  • Owning it. Before the office tattletale can run to the boss to share the news of your mistake, go to the boss and tell her what happened. Be factual about the incident and accept full responsibility.
  • Taking the chip off your shoulder. If you have a defensive, whining “but-it-wasn’t really-my-fault” attitude, the boss will focus only on that, not your explanation. You will not seem sincere, and that’s critical. Maintain eye contact and keep your voice level, but strong.
  • Focusing on the fixing the problem. As soon as you explain what happened as briefly as possible, immediately move into some ideas you have for making sure it doesn’t happen again. It irks a boss when a mistake is made, but it double irks him when he has to figure out how to fix it. By saving him this step, you’ve taken the pressure off him, and that can always help minimize the damage.
  • Getting in the zone. If you’re badly rattled by a mistake, take some time to go for a short walk, splash water on your face or do anything else that will help you focus and have a professional demeanor. Even if the boss screams or yells, don’t lose your composure. You made a mistake, you didn't commit murder. Keep it in perspective and keep reminding yourself that everyone makes mistakes.
  • Asking for help. If you believe you goofed because you needed more direction from the boss, say so. “I know this report is late. I’ve put some steps into place, but I’d like your input in the early stages to make sure I’m on track. That way, you can kick me into gear earlier if I need it,” you say. This shows that you’re focused on the goals of the team, and not afraid to do whatever it takes to make sure targets are met.


Ask a Manager said...

Great post. I'd revise your last point a little though -- I'm a manager and might not appreciate it if someone who works for me told me "you can kick me into gear earlier if I need it." The onus shouldn't be on me to kick them into gear -- the onus should be on them to ask for input when they need it and kick themselves into gear. Just a minor quibble!

Anita said...

You know, I debated about whether to include that last point, but I was having a conversation with a manager the other day, and she suggested such a thing. So, maybe this will only work with some managers...probably a good idea to understand how your manager will react to such a statement before using it. Some may like it, and others may not. Thanks for the input.