Make Mistakes Work For You

Man working in office
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"We all make mistakes."

You no doubt heard that mantra many times growing up to assuage your feelings about messing something up. However, it isn't a phrase often heard at work. Just because no one volunteers to soothe your ego after a goof at work doesn't mean those mistakes don't happen.

The key to managing a mistake at work is to handle it with some humility. We're all bound to make a mistake at some point. It doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be fired. Here are some tips to keep in mind when it's your turn.

Admit the error.
Everyone knows someone who is "never wrong." Don't be that person. When you realize you've made an error at work, the best approach is to bring it to your boss's attention before he or she points it out to you. Unless there's a reason you cannot admit the mistake in person (such as your boss is out of the country), your best bet is to speak face-to-face. If you email your superior in the office down the hall to let her know about the problem, you will look like a coward who made a mistake.

When you notice your own error and alert people who need to know, you help diffuse the situation, and end the potential wait for someone to call you on your blunder. On the other hand, if you wait to admit the mistake, you could cause a bad situation to get even worse.

Don't make excuses.
Excuses may fly on the playground, but they land flat at work and make a bad impression. "I was tired." "I got the project late from Sue and didn't have time to double check it." "Bob didn't tell me I needed to fix those numbers." When you start to come up with a list of reasons you messed up, not only do you appear immature, you risk inadvertently blaming someone else for your error, and that's not going to win you any friends.

"I made a mistake" is the best way to inform people of your error. Own the problem, avoid the blame game and apologize. Most people will admire you for being forthright and you'll be on your way to making amends.

Make a plan to ensure you never make that mistake again.
Depending on the nature of the error, you may want to share your plan with your colleagues and boss, but the most important thing is to be sure you don't wind up in this situation next time.

Volunteer to help fix the mistake on your own time.
If there is any way that you can address the error, make sure you volunteer to handle it on your own time. If it means coming in early, staying late or making phone calls to affected parties to apologize or address the error, you should step up and take responsibility.

Move on.
The phrase, "Everyone makes mistakes" echoes in your ears because it is true. Don't dwell or obsess about the error. Even if it was a serious mistake, don't start writing your resignation unless someone's given you an indication that your mistake was so egregious that there's no way to rectify it. Be positive and use the situation as a lesson that will help you avoid errors at work in the future.

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