9 Steps To Mitigate Your Big Work Mistake

September 23, 2019

9 Steps to Mitigate Your Big Work Mistake

One of the most dreaded conversations is admitting you made a big mistake at work, but the longer you put off this difficult conversation the worse it gets. 

Here is a 9-step checklist to help you admit your error and keep your reputation intact.

#1 Take charge of your mind

It’s easy to go off the deep end and make up all kinds of stories in your mind about how big and bad the mistake is, but the first step is to calm down and realize that this is a growth experience. It’s not the end of the world.

Calming yourself down will give you a chance to recover and if possible course-correct your mistake. You must take charge of your mind. The only way you will get to truth is to separate fact from emotion. Here are some examples:

Emotion: The Company will never recover from this horrible mistake.

Fact: My error likely will require some rework. This might cost the company but I will help to correct it.

Emotion: I’ll never get another great assignment.

Fact: I don’t know the end result of this mistake. 

#2 Get the facts

The easiest way to eliminate the mind-drama is to get to the facts. Fact finding is your prep work and it shouldn’t take much time. Make a list to get clarity about what happened, why it happened, and what you can do about it. Here is a list to get started:

A. The difference between what was expected and what happened

B. When you realized the mistake

C. The business impact of your mistake

D. Why you think the mistake happened

E. Ideas for correcting the mistake

#3 Ask for a private meeting

When you make a mistake, you need to face the issue head on and be prepared. You can use email, company chat, or text to ask for a meeting. It should be simple and go like this:  

Hi First Name, I would like to meet with you tomorrow as soon as possible. Please give me a time when we can talk privately. I need to share something important. 

If you don’t get an immediate response, then go in person to schedule a meeting.

#4 Get support

Before your meeting ask for some mentoring from a trusted colleague, preferably outside of your workplace—someone who can give you advice and help you figure out how to course-correct the problem. This may be your relative, or a professional who has a great reputation.

Don’t go straight to your best friend who doesn’t have any more experience than you do. Seek help from someone with more workplace experience than you have.

#5 Start with intention

Now the day of the meeting is here and you have to own your mistake. Start your meeting with intention, like this: 

Thanks for meeting with me. My intention for asking for this meeting is to share some unfortunate news. I recently discovered that I made a mistake on my project, and I want to take responsibility and become part of the solution. 

Then tell your boss about your mistake. Remember the list (#2) you created? Talk about A, B, and C. Save D and E for later.

#6 Create space

This is where you wait for a moment to get your boss’s response.

Five seconds may feel like five weeks. Wait for the response. Breathe deeply. You are now in the unknown and you must create enough space to allow your boss to process the information.

You may be met with curiosity, compassion or anger. Your job here is to listen and respond appropriately.

#7 Take responsibility

You can’t control how your boss responds. But even in the worst-case scenario, just know that you are only responsible for you.

Decide to show up as one who has character. You are willing to take ownership. You are willing to fix it if possible. You are willing to learn. Don’t start making excuses, and don’t blame. Don’t become defensive, even if you feel scared. Repeat this mantra: 

I want to make it right, and I’m willing to take direction.

#8 Set boundaries if necessary

Suppose the worst happens. Your boss loses their cool. If things seem to spiral out of control, set an appropriate boundary. You can say something like:

I’m truly sorry and I want to make this right. I’d like to set another time to finish this when we both have had a chance to think clearly.

#9 Make it right

Supposing the best case scenario—your boss isn’t thrilled, but is willing to work with you to overcome the mistake—correct the situation if there is a way to do so.

Be prepared to offer your support and go above and beyond to show your appreciation and willingness to learn. Tell your boss you are willing to share what you learned with new team members so the business can avoid a similar mistake. If you have determined that the reason the mistake happened is due to a lack of training, now is the time to bring this issue to the forefront.

Remember that mistakes are an opportunity to grow. And that difficult conversations about mistakes become manageable when you are willing to learn, own up, and help in the course-correction efforts.

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