Effectively Managing a Mistake in the Workplace


When was the last time that you really messed up at work? I am not referring to a small misstep; I am referring to a real disaster. A few years ago, I watched as some of my fellow first-responders took a small mishap and turned it into a giant mess. When we make a mistake at work, we expect the boss to drop the hammer and we end up making it worse. What was initially a just a fender-bender turned into much more when the officers decided to approach it differently. Based on their terrible decision, I developed 3 step process that can be followed when someone has a misstep at work.

The guys decided to hold off on telling the lieutenant about the accident. This was the wrong approach. You should be sure to admit your mistake immediately. Your first step should be to admit you screwed up immediately. Think of it as pulling off a Band-Aid off. It hurts, but once you start, it’s over soon. The sooner you admit the mistake, the sooner you can begin to work through the impacts.

Once the truth came out, they decided to begin cranking out excuses for the wreck. I would encourage you to be direct and clear. You have decided to admit your mistake, so be sure not to try and spin the truth. There is often not good way to tell someone bad news, so just be clear and say it. Let your boss know exactly what happened and why; take full ownership. Do not look for a way to put the problem off on someone or something else. Throwing your coworkers under the bus is always a bad idea.

Finally, admit to your boss that you made an error and that you should have done more to avoid it. At this point, present your plan to fix the mistake to your boss. This shows the boss that you are actively working to take back control of a situation that ran amok. My friends did not have any type of plan that they could present to the lieutenant, and this really hurt their cause when they were ultimately discovered.

Whenever you encounter a situation at work caused by your error, do not run from it, but embrace it. You made a mistake, and you are responsible for fixing it, not avoiding it.

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