How to manage mistakes at work

How to manage mistakes at work

Everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you deal with them that matters.

“If you spill milk on the floor and clean it up, it’s not a big deal. On the other hand, if you spill milk on the floor, walk away like it didn’t happen, and someone comes in and slips and falls, it can be deadly.”

It’s the same with mistakes at work. If you make a mistake, clean it up immediately.

    1. Breathe

      The first step is to remember to breathe. When I first realize I’ve made a mistake, I immediately experience a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, my attention is completely consumed by the mistake, and a little bit of panic sets in. Then I remember that it’s just a mistake, not the end of the world, and I remember to breathe again.If you experience something similar, just remember it’s only a mistake and keep your focus on breathing until you are back to normal.

    2. Immediate action

      Determine if there is any immediate action that needs to be taken by deciding whether the mistake will cause embarrassment or damage.

      • If you misspelled someone’s name, it may be terribly embarrassing, but it’s also easily remedied with a correction and an apology. No need to take immediate action, you can take a little time to figure out the best way to handle the situation. Sooner is always better than later but immediate is not required in this circumstance.
      • If you sent incorrect travel information to someone who is booking a flight based on that information, you would want to take immediate action to limit the damage. Pick up the phone and give them a call. If they don’t answer, leave a message with the correct travel info. Then send them a text with the same info. Keep checking until you receive a response and know the correct info has been received.
    3. Short and sweet

      The wording should be short and to the point and it’s best to not offer any excuse. Here are some examples that could be used if you were dealing with the travel scenario above:

      • If they answer the phone: “Hi Sonya, I sent you the wrong travel info. Did you book your flight yet?”
      • If the flight has not been booked: “Ok, great. I’ll send you an email with the correct information right away.”
      • If the flight has been booked: “Sorry. Would you like me to change your flight or just send you the correct information by email?”
    4. Involve others

      Some mistakes are more serious, and you may need to work with others to remedy the error.

      I was once working in an automated billing system and entered an incorrect price increase for one of our best customers. The error was not discovered for months and we ended up overcharging the customer thousands of dollars. As soon as I found out, I went to my boss and explained what happened and offered to run an analysis of the overcharges. As soon as the analysis was complete, we went to the customer and explained the mistake, asking if they wanted a refund or would prefer to short pay future invoices.

      Instead of being upset that we made a mistake, the customer was delighted that we brought it to their attention. It seems most of their vendors waited for them to bring mistakes to the vendor. We built trust with our customer because we caught our mistake, admitted it, and offered options to correct it.

    5. Determine why

      Another important step is to determine why you made the error so that you can avoid making the error in the future. In the case above, I worked with our pricing team to figure out what I did that caused the error, then explained to my boss that I was now more knowledgeable and he could rest assured that I would not repeat the error. Because of my professional interaction with my boss and the pricing team, I was invited to join the pricing team’s weekly conference call so that I could contribute my view to help improve the pricing system process.

    6. Enhance your reputation

      Although I made a serious mistake, it added trust and enhanced our company’s reputation with our customer as well as my reputation within the company. You can do the same just by following these simple rules.

      • Always admit your mistakes.
      • Never make excuses or blame others.
      • Don’t over apologize or go on about how embarrassed you feel.
      • Admit your mistakes as soon as you find out, never wait to see if you get caught.  When you try to hide or deny a mistake, it creates distrust, which is harder, or sometimes impossible, to correct.
    7. Pride of ownership

      The more you own your mistakes, the more people will learn to trust and believe in you. Improving your ability to deal with mistakes will also build your confidence which ultimately results in making less mistakes!


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