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How to Apologize When You've Made a Mistake at Work | Fairygodboss
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Article
Face the Facts: Mistakes at Work Happen
godshutter / Adobe Stock
Nichole Odijk DeMario
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We’re human. Mistakes happen.

When those mistakes happen at work, it can feel like the end of the world. Emotions run high and imaginations run rampant.

In these moments, before you start panicking, breathe. Take one deep, cleansing breath. Again. Now one more time for good measure.

If you’re feeling better, hold your breath again, I know I am, as I take you back to one of the biggest “mistakes” of my career.

My Big Mistake

As the director of communications for a trade association, one of my charges was overseeing the speeches and presentations of our annual meeting. This event typically drew upwards of 400 attendees. We invited a keynote speaker that had mass audience appeal. That year included a well-respected industry economist. (I know, it sounds dry, but this man knew his stuff and knew how to present it with a wonderful mix of flair and comedic relief.) 

I had viewed his presentation on my desktop, checked for glaring errors and omissions and went about completing a zillion other tasks. Flash forward to the day of the event, I had downloaded the presentation onto my laptop. The speaker was cued up. As I went to open his presentation, I realized with nearly 400 sets of eyes on me (including my boss, 75 percent of our board of directors, fellow staff, etc.) the presentation wasn’t going to load. 

While I wanted to climb underneath the AV table at that very moment, I had to think fast. I inched my way to the stage and told my boss to stall the speaker. His look of bewilderment and frustration bore into my soul. After less than t10 minutes that felt like an eternity, the presentation was up and running and the speech was well on its way. But I knew this moment wasn’t going to pass: I had to address the giant, pink, polka-dotted elephant in the corner. 

Own It

And here’s where my next bit of advice comes in: Swallow your pride and own it. The next day I took it upon myself to go into my boss’ office and explain to him what transpired. I didn’t go into the nitty gritty but was straightforward. Yes, it would have been much easier to just say, “I don’t know what happened?” or shirk responsibility by blaming it on technology, but I chose not to. 

At that moment, I feel I earned a new level of respect from my boss. It wasn’t the first time I’d made a mistake and wouldn’t be my last. There are certain mistakes you can handle on your own and go about your business, but others you know you have to address. Whenever possible, apologize face to face and move on. Don’t beat yourself up. Take the heat. Discuss. Most importantly, learn from the mistake and determine how you can improve in the future.

Now as a consultant, the relationships I’ve developed need constant attention. And when an issue arises, it’s even easier to throw myself into a frenzy. Same rules apply: breathe, access, address, learn, and move on. That’s all you can do. 

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