How to handle your mistakes like a pro

No one knows better than a boss that everyone makes mistakes. But not everyone handles them the same way. When you make a mistake, your boss will be watching you closely and asking himself these questions:

Am I dealing with someone who:

  1. learns easily from mistakes or repeats them endlessly?
  2. tells the simple truth or creates confusion to hide behind?
  3. sincerely accepts responsibility or just tells me what I want to hear?
  4. really hears and understands me?

making mistakes at workYour boss will consider the cost of your mistakes to be part of his investment in you. It’s a cost of doing business. Your job when you report a mistake is to convince your supervisor that his investment is a good one. You can do that by following this checklist:

  1. report your mistakes early so your boss doesn’t find out about them from someone else
  2. apologize without assigning blame to others and without sounding defensive
  3. do whatever you can to correct your mistake and do it quickly
  4. show you thought about what led to your mistake
  5. summarize and say back to your boss his message to you, for ex: “I hear you saying that this was a costly mistake for the company at a time when…” and then
  6. commit to not making that mistake again and explain how you will avoid it

Fully accepting a mistake, making repairs and avoiding repetition is extremely difficult. Maybe one of the most difficult things in life. And that’s one of the few advantages you have in this situation — your boss knows how hard it is. So do it right and you’ll show what you’re made of. If you’re lucky, you may just come out ahead!

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  • ET

    It’s not about the mistake, it’s about how you handle it afterwards. I feel that a mistake is sort of like a grace period. It’s easier to forgive someone who made an honest mistake, verses someone who keeps making the same mistake. Obviously they are not trying to get better. Because once you know better, you do better. If you have to opportunity to make the same mistake twice, it is no longer about what the mistake consists of, its about the person answering to the same call they should’ve learned from.
    I myself used to be unaware of the fact that you have a choice. That you don’t have to answer to the same call. But instead, I can do all that I can, as in research if I’m unsure, ask questions if I don’t understand, etc. With acknowledging the power that I have to refrain from making mistakes, or making the same mistake twice, it makes it easier to communicate, work well with others, and so on! Helping yourself and getting power over situations like making mistakes leads to success in all areas.

  • Bethann

    Even though I was hired for a specific job title, I am constantly being moved to many different areas of the company to fill in when these areas are under staffed. I would say that I am a fast learner but most of my training consists of someone showing me the job responsibilities once and then I’m on my own.
    I am human and I make mistakes. I take notes like nobody else because I might be in this department today and another tomorrow. Each time I make a mistake, I document it. I notate what I did and what I should have done. This way it’s a learning experience and I can avoid making the same mistake again. I’m not always the person who catches my mistakes either; however, I always report it to my supervisor, apologize and explain my thought process that led to the mistake. On occasion, a policy was changed because what I had done was actually more productive.
    I learned early on that “lack of training” is not a reason to make mistakes where I work. I can always ask a co-worker for help because we are a team.

  • NatalieWengler

    Mistakes give us opportunities to learn. If we do not own up and take responsibility for those mistakes we miss those learning opportunities. Making excuses or not taking responsibility for mistakes may send the message to those in charge that you are not interested in improvement or advancement. No body wants to hear excuses. People want you to validate that you messed up, apologize, and learn to do it right the next time.

  • Amyn Rajan

    I can relate to this article really well. This is one of those lessons that took me a while to learn but once I did, I saw a significant improvement in my performance. I work for a small insurance company as a head of operations. As any other executive of a small company, my scope of work covers a wide spectrum of duties. When I first assumed this role, I tried to do everything all at once and I constantly missed deadlines. It got to a point where my poor performance started to effect the business and it caught my boss’s attention. I always took a defensive route and blamed others for my mistakes. I was not only shifting blame to convince my boss but I was also convinced that I was not at fault.

    In one instance, I made a decision to partner up with local radio station to promote our business at a festival, which attracted thousands of residents. This event was going to cost us $10,000 and I completely forgot the date on which this event was to be held. Our radio partners reminded me just 4 days before the event at which point I panicked and quickly tried to mobilize resources such as staffing for the event and promotional items to be distributed. My last minute planning was evident as we were not able to successfully generate enough business leads at the event. After the event I submitted a summary report of the event and passed it on to my boss. This time my boss called me in the office and asked me to read my report out loud. After I was done reading, he asked me if I notice how I managed to blame the radio partners, office staff, and lack of planning as a factor, which caused this event to fail, but nowhere in this report I assumed responsibility even though this event was planned based on my own decision. He then asked me to do pick one of the two things, either write another report assuming responsibility or write him a check for $10,000.

    This was an important lesson I learned the hard way. I have a very good relationship with my boss and he was willing to be my mentor and teach me what I needed to learn. But not all bosses would be the same. I feel that I would have lost my job is my boss wasn’t generous and didn’t care to invest in my well-being. Since this instance, I have not only learned to take responsibility for my mistakes but I realize that once I accept my own mistakes, I am not likely to repeat the same.

  • Amyn Rajan

    I can relate to this article really well. This is one of those lessons that took me a while to learn but once I did, I saw my a significant improvement in my performance. I work for a small insurance company as a head of operations. As any other executive of a small company, my scope of work covers a wide spectrum of duties. When I first assumed this role, I tried to do everything all at once and I constantly missed deadlines. It got to a point where my poor performance started to effect the business and it caught my boss’s attention. I always took a defensive route and blamed others for my mistakes. I was not only shifting blame to convince my boss but I was also convinced that I was not at fault.

    In one instance, I made a decision to partner up with local radio station to promote our business at a festival which attracted thousands of residents. This event was going to cost us $10,000 and I completely forgot the date on which this event was to be held. I was reminded by our radio partners just 4 days before the event at which point I panicked and quickly tried to mobilize resources such as staffing for the event and promotional items to be distributed. My last minute planning was evident as we were not able to successfully generate enough business leads at the event. After the event I submitted a summary report of the event and passed it on to my boss. This time my boss called me in the office and asked me to read my report out loud. After I was done reading, he asked me if I notice how I managed to blame the radio partners, office staff, and lack of planning as a factor which caused this event to fail but no where in this report I assumed responsibility even though this event was planned based on my own decision. He then asked me to do pick one of the two things, either write another report assuming responsibility or write him a check for $10,000.

    This was an important lesson I learned the hard way. I have a very good relationship with my boss and he was willing to be my mentor and teach me what I needed to learn. But not all bosses would be the same. I feel that I would have lost my job is my boss wasn’t generous and didn’t care to invest in my well being. Since this instance, I have not only learned to take responsibility for my mistakes but I realize that once I accept my own mistakes, I am not likely to repeat the same.

  • http://academy.justjobs.com/accept-responsibility-for-your-mistakes/#comments Sharnell Mason

    Working in the real world, you will have ups and downs and set backs that you will face. You will also make mistakes. It is always best to consider what you would do when you when you make a mistake. I always learn from my mistakes and always try to understand what I could do to improve myself when I make a mistake. I also enjoy when my boss approach me and let me know when I make a mistake. If no one approaches you when you make a mistake you will continue to make the same mistakes and will not grow as a person. Growth is very important because it allows you to elevate and move up in the world and take on new tasks.

  • Hydee84

    This is a great article because it addresses the elephant in the room. We all make mistakes, but how willing are we to admit them, discuss them and improve upon them? This reminds me of a very large mistake I made while pursuing my Bachelor’s Degree. I had a final exam coming up that was weighted as half of my grade. Even though I knew how important it was, I took it for granted and long story short I failed the exam as well as the class. Being an A-B student my entire life this hit me hard and took quite a while to fully sink in. I had moments of frustration, feeling hopeless, feeling helpless, feeling defeated. But at the end of the day, I decided the exam surely did not make me nor would it break me. So I re-took the class the next semester and ended up passing with a final grade of “A”.

    I accepted my mistake and improved upon it. Even to this day, as I pursue higher education, I am determined to never make that mistake again. Additionally, I believe I did come out ahead, because it helped build a character of resilience and perseverance. These are skills important not only in the work force but life in general.

  • Evelyn Lozoya

    This article caught my attention because making mistakes is the best part of life. At work of course some mistakes are costly and may cause you to lose your job (ex:health care field); However, for the most part at least for me when a mistake is made I get to reflect on what I could have changed and/or was appropriate in the situation. As the article states, “Maybe one of the most difficult things in life. And that’s one of the few advantages you have in this situation — your boss knows how hard it is. So do it right and you’ll show what you’re made of.” This statement specifically I feel holds most value; being honest, and admitting your wrong is the best part of personal-proffesional growth.

    • Winnie Ross

      Many people can relate to this article, because it is a known fact that everyone has made some kind of mistake in the work place. In the work place many people try to be perfectionist. In my own experience I’ve made some mistakes on the job. I took responsibility for my actions, and I used those mistakes as a learning experience. With that being said I learned to perform my duties in a better manner, and I learned not to make those mistakes again. It is better to be honest, and take responsibility for your actions than try to avoid facing the matter at hand.

      Another way to face the mistakes that are made on the job is to realize that making mistakes is the way we gain experience. If your learning something new you keep trying until you get it right. Your boss knows that you could possibly make some mistakes, but at the same time they don’t want your mistakes to become a routine. They don’t want to see your mistakes continuously happening. Just don’t leave your boss questioning if your able to perform the duties of the job you were hired to do.

    • Amber Davis

      This article directly relates to my first internship experience. I had never worked in an office before and I was very nervous, could barely breathe. My supervisor had asked me to print out one-hundred copies of the flyer for the summer camp program. I was so determined to have a successful first day; I immediately sent the copy order to the printer. When I went to check on it, the spacing was wrong for the bottom heading and all seventy copies had to be properly discarded.

      I was ashamed, embarrassed, and nervous to tell my supervisor in fear of her reaction. When I showed her what I had done, to my surprise she laughed and tried to comfort me by telling me an embarrassing story of what she did on her first job. Ever since that moment, whenever I was given the task to print or send emails, I always went back to her for her approval before I fully executed the task. Even if I thought I might have annoyed her, I valued accuracy more importantly and refused to make another careless mistake.

      Mistakes are inevitable and personally I believe it is one of the best ways to learn. The mistake is not what is important, but rather the lessons learned and the progress made from that point. I never made mistakes again while I worked there, and since she valued my determination for precision, I was offered a summer job with the company. Had I not made that mistake, the internship could have been a completely different experience for me, either better or worst. What mattered in that situation was that I did not allow that mistake to hinder me from performing to the best of my abilities, and in the end I was rewarded accordingly.

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In 1997, Eric Shannon launched the first job board for bilinguals who speak English/Spanish at LatPro.com. Eric still serves as CEO of LatPro Inc., developer of JustJobs.com. He lives in Boulder, CO with his wife and two girls.

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