Alexander Pope once said, “To err is human.” This famous quote has resonated through the generations because individual can relate to it – everyone messes up at some point or another. Our faults do not define us… instead, what really matters is how we act after we’ve “slipped up”. Making a mistake at work can be especially terrifying for a student or new grad – but don’t fret, The next time you make a mistake at work, follow these four steps to show your employer that you can handle the situation with maturity and professionalism.
1. Take Responsibility
This first step may seem obvious, but it can be hard to do in practice when things actually go wrong. Even though taking ownership of a mistake may be the last thing you feel like doing, it’s the only way that you can approach the situation like a responsible adult. If it’s not your fault, admit your mistake to those who need to know about it (your boss, co-workers, etc.) as soon as possible. Explain what happened and what went wrong so that they know that you aren’t trying to hide from what you did. You should also tell your employer how sorry you are for your error. Don’t apologize over and over again – make your apology clear and sincere the first time. This will help you come across as mature and responsible, which is especially important for a student or new grad.
2. Be Honest
Don’t try to keep things hidden. Be clear about exactly what happened and your role in the situation. If others were involved, it’s okay to say that. Just be careful to make sure it doesn’t sound like you’re trying to shift the blame for what happened to someone else. Explain things in neutral terms as much as possible; the more diplomatic you can be, the better. You should also explain why it happened – for example, if you were rushing to meet a deadline and didn’t double check something, or if you misunderstood the instructions you were given, let them know. This way, your supervisor can understand how things played out. Choose your words carefully so that it doesn’t sound as though you’re trying to make excuses. More often than not, your employer will be understanding and appreciate that you’re being upfront and taking responsibility for your actions.
3. Fix It (If You Can)
Not every problem can be solved, but if there is a way to make the situation better, it’s up to you to do what you can to make it happen. Perhaps your organization has to issue a formal apology to its stakeholders, or your team needs to find a way to make up for lost revenue. Whatever the situation, trying to resolve it will likely mean extra work for you and others, so be ready and willing to do whatever you can to fix what went wrong and be aware of how the situation will impact those around you. In addition to apologizing to anyone who is affected by your mistake, you should thank anyone who helps you to fix it. If a boss, co-worker or friend helps to bail you out, show your appreciation for their assistance and be ready to return the favour in the future. Depending on what lengths they go to, you might want to write a thank-you card or offer some kind of token or gesture to show them how much you value their support.
4. Live and Learn
Learning from your mistake is the most important step in this process. People are generally pretty forgiving, unless we allow the same mistakes to happen over and over again. Do whatever you can to prevent history from repeating itself; you may need to establish a new process or create a checklist for yourself, for example, to avoid the same oversight in the future. Once you’ve owned up to your mistake, done what you can to fix it and made an effort to prevent it from happening again, it’s time to move on. Making mistakes is simply part of life – it happens to be the best of us, so don’t let the occasional mishap ruin your self-esteem or dampen your belief in your abilities. Realize that accepting and dealing with the consequences of our actions is a necessary part of growing up and that embracing the more difficult moments will make you stronger in the end.