Deadlines get missed. To-do’s get dropped. Customer calls go off script.
We all make mistakes, but that’s small comfort when you’re the one making them—especially at work. While it can be hard to regroup after making an error on the job, it’s essential to learn how to do so calmly and with resilience: It’s been well documented that stress can impact our thought processes, leading us to make bad decisions and additional blunders.
The way you handle mistakes can even help you move forward in your career. “When we make mistakes, bump up against our limitations, and fall short of our ideals, that’s how we learn,” says Michelle McQuaid, author of Your Strengths Blueprint: How to Be Engaged, Energized, and Happy at Work. “It’s crucial to find a way to learn from what has happened and grow as a result of the experience.”
In other words, while you can’t “fix” everything that goes wrong at work, you can choose to take accountability when you make a mistake. Here’s a 4-step strategy for moving forward in the best way possible:
- Pinpoint the Problem
The first step is to identify the mistake, McQuaid says. What happened, and how did you contribute to the issue? It’s important to consider all impacts. What are the potential ramifications to you, your team, your customers, and/or your organization? When you can clearly see how you contributed to a situation, you can find more options for action and solution.
- Take Accountability
The next step is to fess up, says Tim Toterhi, an executive career coach. By being transparent about your mistake instead of brushing it under the rug, you can begin to make a productive plan to improve and move forward. “Admitting the mistake immediately is always the way to go. When the error is known, then you can rally the support you need to get things under control,” he says.
Part of this process is to discuss the mistake with your manager. Do this in a face-to-face meeting, or at least on the phone if an in-person meeting can’t be scheduled, McQuaid says. That way, you’ll be able to look your manager in the eye, read their body language, and discuss solutions while minimizing the risk of miscommunication.
In that meeting, Toterhi suggests you:
- Show up with some ideas for how you can remedy the mistake.
- Lay out a plan to prevent the issue from happening again.
- Follow Up
Once the immediate situation is resolved, communicate with your manager again about what happened, how it was handled, and what can be done going forward to help others learn from the mistake. “This approach turns a negative into a win and paints you in a better light,” Toterhi says.
- Forgive Yourself
It’s important that you allow yourself to move on too, McQuaid says. You don’t want to jeopardize your performance or productivity by holding on to regret or guilt. Here are several ways to use self-compassion, rather than self-criticism, to get through these difficult feelings:
Take the viewpoint of the “compassionate other” and talk to yourself the way a mentor or caring friend would speak to you during a difficult time.
Choose an empowering phrase to repeat to yourself, such as “You’ve got this,” or “You’re doing the best you can.”
Place one hand on your stomach and take deep, focused breaths through your nose, filling your belly while keeping your chest as still as possible. Exhale slowly through your mouth, releasing any tension in your body. Repeat at least five times or until you feel calm enough to return to your day.
Polly Campbell is Portland-based author and speaker specializing in psychology, resilience, and wellness topics. She is the author of three books: How to Live an Awesome Life: How to Live Well. Do Good. Be Happy; Imperfect Spirituality: Extraordinary Enlightenment for Ordinary People; and How to Reach Enlightenment. Tweet her @PLCampbell.