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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  • Cameran Ware

    In high school of my junior year, I took culinary. There were a few times where we (the class) tried to produce a recipe and things did not turn out that way it was expected. One instance in particular, we were all making bread. I measured everything correctly but I forgot the yeast. It wasn’t until I read the instructions the second time that I found out what the warm water was used for, to activate the yeast.

    Every other ingredient had already been mixed so I was forced to start over. My mistake was moving too fast and not doing the most important step in remaking a recipe, READING. I explained to Chef Serrato what I did wrong and remade my dough correctly. We still made the bread without the yeast just to see what the difference would be. One tasted bland and did not rise while the other was a perfect loaf.

  • Clarissa Montiel

    I worked at a medical supply company for a little over a year. I learned very quickly that every single word you type or say affects your work with your clients and/or patients, even your coworkers. It’s easy to get frustrated and to mess up something when you have several parties telling you different things with other cases in mind. With our company, we were able to fix our mistakes as promptly as we could. It’s uncomfortable to tell your supervisors that you made a mistake but it is a lot better to admit this beforehand so you can save time and money to correct your mistake. It’s important to understand how you got to that mistake enable to deter repeating the same error and to show your boss you can get a handle on your position.

  • Paloma J

    This is an aspect of my history as an employee that I found very difficult yet managed to handle well. I have made many mistakes as an employee (usually due to my poor memory), and I had the unpleasant experience of having to own up to my mistakes more times than I would’ve liked. However, I found that every time after the initial panic and stress, I would inform my supervisor in complete honesty, apologize, and accept responsibility for any repercussions. Every time my supervisor treated me with kindness and forgiveness. I have learned that we tend to make bigger deals out of errors than they usually are. If you own up to your mistake early on and show you truly are apologetic, but also show that you have LEARNED from your mistake, everything will generally turn out okay. I am just speaking from my experience, and it may be different for other people in different lines of work.

    Something important to also remember after making an error on the job, is to realize it doesn’t change your worth. I tend to be very hard on myself and blame my mistakes on my incompetence. But I have learned that that attitude of self pity gets you no where. Realize that you are human and mistake-prone. Just as you want your boss’s forgiveness, don’t forget to forgive yourself.

  • iqmd99

    Reading this article certainly has made me more optimistic about my career future. Something I very often worry about is making mistakes and how to handle the pressure a situation like that presents. It is a fact of life that everyone makes mistakes and that no one is perfect; what really matters is how we handle our mistakes, not that we made them in the first place. Of course, repeating the same mistake over and over becomes a problem, but making a mistake for the first time can actually act as a valuable learning experience.

    Making mistakes has always been something I have anxiety about, but utilizing these principles makes it seem a more manageable situation to find myself in. Rather than resenting the embarrassment or hassle that comes with making a mistake, I should try and take advantage of the situation and change the way I operate in order to avoid an encounter with the same problem on future occasions. This way, a more positive outcome can be reached, which may allow me to grow as a person rather than impeading that growth.

    This article is very instrumental in understanding how to handle making mistakes. I am extremely thankful I had this resource to utilize before going in to the work force so that I am prepared in how to handle any mistakes I may make. I now know to be open, honest, and cooperative when addressing and recovering form a mistake.

  • swain12

    The first line states it perfectly. “Everyone makes mistakes.” I can be a bit of a perfectionist at times, and one of the biggest things I had to learn was that I would eventually make a mistake at work. I work in an office on my college campus doing basic work on the computer like creating spreadsheets or entering data.

    I usually finish all of my work in a timely manner, and rarely do I make mistakes. When I do make a mistake, I am quick to acknowledge it. When I first started working in the office, I was afraid to ask for help when I needed it, and that led to a few mistakes. I learned it is better to admit when I need help then to try to do things on my own. I believe taking responsibility for my work is extremely important. No matter what job I have. I plan to apply this even when I am a high school math teacher one day. I am a human. I make mistakes, but I will take ownership for my mistakes and learn from them.

  • HMD

    I think this is a crucial lesson to learn, and not just in the job atmosphere. People make mistakes all the time in life, with family and friends, extracurriculars, and, obviously, in the working environment. When I was younger it was incredibly easy to blame anything else on my own mistakes. It was my sister’s fault, or an outside source happened and I just had to do it, anyone or anything but myself was to blame. I distinctly remember my father explaining to me that no one likes when you shift blame, it’s better for everyone when you take responsibility for your actions.

    After working in my first few jobs, I’ve found this could not be more true. When I have made mistakes, I immediately accept that I did it. In addition, I try to help think of solutions to my mistakes to give to my employer. I’ve found so few people have learned this, and that employers will appreciate you actually taking responsibility for your actions and initiative to find a solution.

    Another tactic I believe is essential that should be highlighted is where it says to focus on what you can do to not make your mistake again. Employers are very understanding of mistakes, it’s simply when you’re making the same ones over and over that they get frustrated. I believe after every mistake it is proactive to reflect on the situation and figure out what you did wrong, and what you should do to change it. Again, this is not just applicable to work, but all situations.

  • Michael Doyle

    I had a reoccurring summer job that consists of painting houses in the dry, desert heat of Nevada, and one thing I learned from that is that your boss is always cranky. This means that every mistake I made as an employee was like pricking him with a needle, and if I was able to own up to it early, be honest, and fix it quickly, he was much less aggravated and I was a lot less on edge. It makes the whole work environment a little more tolerable.

  • Kristen Hall

    Handling mistakes with grace and humility is a skill that I have had to work hard at for a long time to be able to call a strength. It used to be one of my weaknesses. I used to try to hide every mistake that I made for as long as possible and hope that I would have the chance to fix it before anyone noticed. But after failing miserably at this several times, I taught myself how to handle mistakes with maturity instead of covering them up. Between forgetting things, being clumsy, and trying to learn new jobs, our lives can get challenging. I have found, though, that most people will be very understanding and forgiving if you keep your head and are honest about your mistakes. It is certainly true, however, that once you enter the professional work force, your tolerance for mistakes must decrease. There will be true consequences to every mistake that you make so it is imperative that you learn from them.

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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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