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!

a faster pc so we can make mistakes faster?

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  • Amber Tilghman

    Shannon outlined several very helpful pieces of advice in this article. Mistakes happen to everyone. In most cases, managers will not expect employees to be perfect and mistake-free. They will observe the way employees handle their mistakes to determine whether they will excel in their work environment.

    Shortly after I started my first corporate job, I made a fairly big mistake on a deliverable that was sent to a client. Once I realized the mistake, my stomach sank. I tended to be a perfectionist, so mistakes seemed like the end of the world to me at this point in my life. However, I took a deep breath and approached my boss to discuss the issue. I explained what I had done wrong, and how I planned to prevent the same error from occurring in the future. My boss responded very well and was especially glad that I approached him about the problem. Had I tried to hide the mistake and move forward, my relationship with my boss and anxiety level with my job would not have fared well. My handling of the mistake showed initiative, and also helped me learn how to be more observant and aware in my job.

    Overall, handling a mistake shows much more about one’s character than actually making the mistake. Individuals can learn immensely from their mistakes. Thus, one additional piece of advice I might add to Shannon’s list would be to take a deep breath before anything else if you realize you have made a mistake. Recognize that you are human, and that it is not the end of the world. Do not dwell. Focus your energy into repairing the mistake based on the advice in this article, and you will excel.

  • Lena Smith

    Taking ownership of your mistakes is what I believe to be the most noblest thing one can do. It demonstrates that you are humble, and aware that you are not perfect. As the article says, everyone makes mistakes, but it’s how you act after making the mistake that sets you apart from others.

    In school I learned that one of the most important aspects of being a good interpreter is to know when I’ve made a mistake, and take ownership of that mistake. A mistake made in my field will affect the consumer in a negative way, and to not acknowledge the mistake could skew the assignment. The ethical thing to do is to humbly admit to the mistake, and work hard so that it doesn’t happen again.

    I remember the first time I made a mistake. It was really hard to come clean about it, but I remember thinking that what would happen to me as a result of the mistake was irrelevant- I had to protect my consumer at all costs, it wasn’t their fault I made a mistake. If I wouldn’t have come clean, the consumer would have gotten in to trouble, but because I did, the consumer didn’t, and neither did I. I think that making mistakes is expected, and it is okay, as long as you are willing to accept responsibility for your actions.

  • Living Dead girl ;3

    I just recently got a job at a fast food place today was supposed to be my 4th day my boss had confused me about what my hours were supposed to be today so I ended up making a huge mistake apparently instead of 8 to 12 I was supposed to be there 12 to 8 by the time I caught my mistake it was already too late I ended up being late for work I I freaked out I didn’t know what to do and the first thing that came to mind was call and lie I called the manager who was the only one there apparently so he was the only one in charge I told him my uncle is in the hospital and I needed to be there for him am I going to be okay what should I do now?

  • monique ware

    I agree with this lesson completely. When I worked as a retail manager, I faced may people who did not want to admit to mistakes. As a manager it was frustrating because it is difficult to help people learn from their mistakes if they won’t first admit they did something incorrect. I also learned that as a leader, it is best for my team for me to admit to them and explain any time I made a mistake. It showed them that we are all human, we all make mistakes, and it’s best to acknowledge them, learn from them, and then move on.

    Approximately a year ago, I worked as an interim administrative assistant at a college. Not only was I new on staff, but I was only going to be there temporarily. Although I had limited training in their policy and procedures, I relied on my general knowledge of best business practices, and followed any and all handbooks/resources they provided me with. Despite my proactive attempts at avoiding mistakes, I still made some. I readily acknowledged when I made mistakes (and sometimes even allowed myself to take the blame for someone else’s minor mistakes), and I would alert my supervisor when I had made a mistake that I was unable to fix on my own. These methods worked very well and helped the whole experience to go well.

    • Living Dead girl ;3

      perhaps you could help me with my little work situation? :-) I’d really appreciate it its obvious to me that you have more work experience then I I just recently got my first job

  • Rachel Waitforit Riley

    I remember the first time I started working in the fast food industry and shortly after I was hired, the owner decided my first day would be the night of Halloween (one of the busiest days at Little Caesars) because we had a long line of customers trailing outside the door my trainer was stressed and I made many mistakes trying to help, and recall feeling frustrated that I could not keep up. However I had a very patient manager whom always saw the bright side of the situation and eventually, I eliminated my mistakes to a minimum and some of my best memories were from that year at my job<3

  • Swoosh

    As a college student who has not started my career yet, I can best compare this to the restaurant jobs I have worked part time to make a personal connection. The beauty of this tip however is that it applies to all jobs or task no matter the level on the corporate chain. Learning to handle your mistakes in a positive way is important because it shows that as a worker you can first of all learn from them which decreases the chance of you making the same mistake again, as well as show that despite a mishap you can move past it and complete the job at hand.

    Showing this to your boss will make him or her have more faith in you which can lead to promotion or simply more trust to handle the more difficult tasks in the workplace. This happened to me my first month of my last job waiting tables when my supervisor gave me the same tasks as others who had been working at the restaurant for years. Because I had taken responsibility for the mistakes I made at first and was able to eliminate them quickly, I earned the trust to do such jobs.

  • Kara Selk

    One related experience in my life that I have had was recently I got a waitress job at a restaurant. It was my was first night being by myself and a lady had ordered off the senior menu, but when I punched in her order I range in their food off of the regular menu. When I was going to give the lady her bill she was confused on why it was so expensive and wanted a refund because she had ordered off the senior menu not the regular menu. I was very embarrassed and went right to my manager to have him help me adjust their check. I offered to pay the extra money and apologized to my manager and the customer. The customer left not the happiest, but I learned to always ask if they do not specify which menu they wanted their food off of.

  • katielee1993

    I think this is a great article. It’s always hard to admit our own mistakes. I’m currently a tax intern at a large public accounting firm and have made my fair share of mistakes. It’s true that the best lessons are learned from mistakes, but those mistakes sure can be embarrassing at the time when they’re made. It’s definitely best to take ownership if your mistakes and not make excuses. Whoever found your mistake likely knows that you simply made mistake, so making excuses and/or blaming it on someone else will only make it worse. When making a mistake, it’s always best to apologize, take ownership, correct, and move on.

  • John A. Williams II

    I have played team sports all of my life and one of the most important lessons to take from team sports is when you fall, get back up and try again. I remember my coach had me practicing ladder techniques and i would fail time after time, but suddenly it clicked. i learned that practice truly does make perfect and a true determined person would closely adhere to what mistake was made and try to resolve it. Sports give great life lessons and this value of learning from your mistakes is a very valuable one.

  • Jessica Trussell

    I think it’s important not only to realize that you will make mistakes, but to know that you will always have room to get better and to improve. And to follow that, to appreciate how far you have already come. When we make mistakes, it can sometimes feel like life might not get better, that you are stuck in the same place and that you will never improve. Not true! We are given strength to complete the tasks that we are given in each moment, and understanding our mistakes is just another part of our efforts to get back up, do it again, and do it better. Who cares how many times you fail- the important thing is to always to know that everything happens for a reason, that your mistakes ground your efforts to become the best you possible. We are all human, we all going to do something that we know we could have done better. Next time, really try to make a difference, to step up and cease the opportunity!

  • Bethany Rogers

    Everyone makes mistakes, however, owning up to it immediately will be very important. I believe that by doing so and then having a plan of action and implementing it will show my character and desire to be a good employee.

  • Bethany Rogers

    Owning up to your mistake immediately is of utmost importance and then having a direct plan of action and implementing it speaks of your character and ability to be a valued employee. I will use this valuable information when I begin my internship. Understanding how to handle your mistakes will enhance my ability to be a better intern as well as other future positions.

  • Roxanne

    I just made a HUGE MISTAKE I NEED HELP!!!! I’m a brand new F&I manager and one of the car deals I did not collect the $1,000 down payment that the deal was structure… the customer is now lying saying that he does not recall a down payment…… Now accounting is saying they are going do a charge back and withdraw the money from my paycheck if the customers refuses to pay it….!!!!! please help!

  • Jennet

    I’m working in sales
    department with a renowned media organization. It’s being almost 10 months and
    one of my good friend has joined one of our indirect competitor, She joined
    just 6 months back. We have same exposure to market besides our product are entirely different. But at this
    point of time she holds more credibility then me. In fact people who were connected
    to me are now connected to her more. It’s bit difficult for me to take this. As
    I’m already prone to worst situations at my work because I’m popular for my
    repeatitive mistakes, which I don’t intend to do… I’m bad at learning things at
    one go.. It takes time for me to understand and I get to learn it unless and until
    it is perfectly fit in my head, I guess because of my slow learning
    capabilities and her fast learning ability has made stick more as a gum to the
    market. And I’m still struggling to be The One.

  • 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.

    • joe

      I was in a position where my job duties and everything that was associated with the job was not clearly defined but i rolled with it and did the best job i could. I was more of a hunter meaning im used to new business acquisition but was never told i would be a hardcore farmer of 100 accounts in 4 days. I made mistakes and owned up to them but was still written up by my middle manager. I had a heavy work load compared to some of the other new guys but was still being constantly scrutinized for making some mistakes but considering I had to manage 100 accounts in 4 days and another co worker had 30 accounts in a full week was crazy. I thought i was doing a good job and I would have to merchandise a weekly order of 100 cases of beer to a huge retail store to shelf by myself before i started my sales day due to a lack of beer Merchandisers and never complained. But they sure complained if i didnt sell one account 3 cases of beer. I felt like i was duped and set up for failure. I wasnt going to quit of course because im not a quitter but after 6 months they let me go after working from 645 am to 530 pm day and opening new accounts in the process. I was one of the first ones there at the office and one of the last ones to leave but still got fired. I felt betrayed, unsupported, and frankly not liked. I felt like this for a while but i am the type of person to never give up and when they fired me it was huge hit to my ego and still is. Ive never tried something and failed. Ive always did something to make it work. But like all the posts its a learning experience. Get back on your damn feet and try again. You will never know if you dont try and success is the best vegence and it will feel good to say fuck you douches im glad you fired me cuz now im doing better. Fuck yeah

  • 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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About the author

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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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