How to handle making mistakes

Chances are you have experienced the negative impact of doing something that leaves you with a black mark against your name. No matter what you do thereafter, it seems, you simply can’t shake it. You don’t get that promotion, you have responsibility taken from you, you could even be demoted or worse ‘let go’. Is it possible to turn things around? The answer isn’t simple. Of course, it depends on the individuals you are working with, how forgiving they are, what you did in the first place and how you handled it.

We all make mistakes, it’s human nature. In the ideal workplace culture, you make a mistake, everyone accepts it, quickly forgives you, forgets about it and moves on and what you did doesn’t hang over your head like a black cloud forever more. But the workplace can sometimes be unforgiving and shaking off a bad reputation that arises from poor performances and mistakes can be hard to do.

The truth is, sometimes we simply can’t redeem ourselves in a particular organisation. For whatever reason, sometimes the best approach for your career progression is to start looking for a new job, a fresh start, where you can apply the lessons you have learned in a brand new environment with brand new people in a culture that will let you grow. But for the sake of this article, let’s assume that whatever it was you did wrong, you have the opportunity to redeem yourself, turn things around and free yourself any black marks against your name. Here are some steps you can take in order to begin the process:

1. Forgive yourself

We can be our own biggest critics. Yes, you performed poorly and made a mistake (or several mistakes) but if there is any chance of others forgiving you, you first need to forgive yourself. Sometimes we become so rattled by the mistake we make that we lose confidence in our ability to do our job well. If we doubt ourselves, then how can we expect others to trust in our abilities to do a good job. By accepting that you made a mistake and being willing to forgive yourself, you can move on to the next step of fixing it.

2. Acknowledge your mistake

The next step here is to be brave enough and vulnerable enough to acknowledge that you made a mistake. A big one. One that has damaged the trust your work colleagues or customers had in you. Being vulnerable and humble can work a long way towards receiving forgiveness from others and re-establishing trust. When we show our vulnerability, others are naturally compelled to help us. Being vulnerable reminds others that we are all humans and prone to mistakes.

3. Fix it

There’s a great approach to theatre acting. If you make a mistake, don’t try to cover it up. As soon as you try to cover things up, the audience spots it a mile off and instantly loses respect or loses rapport with you. Instead, make it obvious, make a big deal out of your mistake, get the audience involved and laughing along with you. This analogy can be applied to the workplace. When you make a mistake that could potentially tarnish your reputation, make sure you address it loudly and clearly. Apologise. Explain why it happened and most importantly, make sure you communicate how you are going to fix it or ensure it won’t happen again. Having accountability for the mistakes you make shows that you are mature and responsible enough to admit mistakes, learn from them and take measures to stop them from occurring again. It is a redeeming quality and one that (hopefully) people can appreciate and accept. By addressing your mistakes in a responsible manner, you may even be able to reverse the issue and build even greater rapport with your colleagues and clients alike. Admitting your mistakes and communicating the learnings can also help others to not make the same mistakes in their work. Having a culture that sees mistakes as opportunities for learnings and improvements is an excellent way to cultivate a warm and accepting workplace environment, not one lead by fear of doing something wrong.

The next time you make a dreadful mistake or faux pas that could tarnish your reputation, take your own power back and try these actions to turn things around. Covering mistakes up or trying to move on without addressing them leaves others feeling suspicious and untrusting. It’s much better to acknowledge and address big mistakes and could in fact work towards building stronger connections in the long run.

I’d love to help your company in all matters of leadership and teamwork. Could your team benefit from one of my tailored leadership workshops? Please get in touch today.

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