6 Ways to Bounce Back After a Major Work Mistake

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Kayla Heisler1.16k
May 25, 2024 at 7:33AM UTC

Mistakes happen. We spend a lot of time at work, so it goes without saying that a lot of the mistakes we make in our lives will involve the workplace. Though your first instinct may be to panic and hide your mistake — or to just run away — acting while under duress can cause more harm than good. What matters most is how you behave in the aftermath of messing up.  Everyone makes mistakes eventually, but not everyone handles making them well. Here are six ways to bounce back from a major work mistake without ruining your reputation. 

1. Try to fix the problem.

Before you confront the necessary party about your mistake, ask yourself if there is a way for you to responsibly correct it on your own. If your mistake is minor enough that no one else has to know about it, start there — but only if you are certain repairing it on your own won’t cause more harm than good. If you still need to bring your mistake to someone else’s attention, have a couple of different solutions in mind for how to move forward.

2. Apologize—once—to necessary parties.

Don’t grovel. When we make mistakes, a first instinct can be to demonstrate how sorry we are by apologizing repeatedly. Unfortunately, though this idea may come from a good place, it can cause more harm than good. Having to reassure someone that they’re forgiven over and over can feel exhausting for the other party. So deliver one heartfelt — yet dignified — apology. Then, keep moving.

3. Take responsibility.

While you should absolutely tell the whole truth, avoid bringing other people into the issue. Throwing someone else under the bus will not help your case— it will just earn you office enemies. Assuming responsibility demonstrates strong leadership skills that may even boost your reputation with bosses in the future.

4. Accept the consequences.

Mistakes often have consequences. Maybe you have to stay late every night for a month to double check data or call hundreds of clients and explain that an error was made that’s being corrected. Whatever you have to do to right your wrong, do it humbly and without complaint. This shows that you take your mistake seriously more than repeatedly apologizing ever could. Moving forward positively can be a major way to show your bosses and coworkers that you’re a team player who has the company’s best interest in mind.

5. Don’t hide.

Though you may initially feel embarrassed depending on the severity of your error and how many people know about it, showing shame will only make the aftermath worse. After you’ve apologized to the appropriate parties, don’t hang your head about it. Don’t seclude yourself in your office or opt out of giving ideas at meetings. 

6. Practice self-compassion.

Easier said than done, right? If you find yourself replaying your mistake over and over, try to focus on how many things you’ve done correctly and pat yourself on the back for handling this error so well. Remember that mistakes are important teachers, and you’re walking away from your mistake all the wiser.

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Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets anthology.

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