What to Do When You Screw Up at Work
Say you realized that vitally important email you were supposed to send is actually still in your drafts folder. Maybe you forgot to book a meeting room for the big pitch your boss is giving today, or you just missed an important deadline. It’s okay. You can fix it No need to panic. . Here’s what to do instead:
1. Admit it to yourself.
The first step to fixing your mistake is to admit to yourself that it happened, and assure yourself it’s not the end of the world. If you’re still tempted to say “the order did not get placed” or “the expense report did not get filed,” you have not yet admitted your mistake to yourself. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s not okay to lie to yourself. You did not place the order. You did not file the expense report. Using the passive voice to explain what happened to the people who can help fix it will not help your cause. Admit to yourself what happened so you can be clear-eyed and realistic when making it right.
2. Make a plan.
Don’t get so stuck feeling guilty or sad that you can’t help solve the problem. It’s much better to be able to show proactive action towards fixing whatever your mistake was than to waste time feeling sorry for yourself. It doesn’t do your boss any good for you to be on Employee Shaming. It helps her much more for you to be able to show how you’ve already nearly fixed the issue before you even have to bring it up with her. Forget to send an important email? See if they have a phone number so you can let them know they have it now. Mess up some numbers in a report? Remind your friend in accounting how you brought him a bagel the day after the holiday party, and he owes you this one. Don’t let your one mistake get in the way of how awesome you do your job all the rest of the time.
3. Admit it to your team.
Anthony Bourdain’s first book “Kitchen Confidential” may look like it’s about food, but it’s also a great lesson on the intersection of passion and career. His tips for aspiring chefs really apply in every industry: Never make excuses or blame others. Try not to lie. “Forgot to place the produce order?” Bourdain writes. “Don’t lie about it. You made a mistake. Admit it and move on. Just don’t do it again. Ever.” His final tip applies here too: “Have a sense of humor about things. You’ll need it.”
You’re not helping anyone by trying to hide your mistake. It could lead to trouble for your fellow cubicle drones, and you need their help, not their resentment. If they know you forgot to place the proverbial produce order, they can scrounge something together and maybe pull something out of the pantry. If they don’t know, they might just put fresh delicate mushrooms on the specials menu. Don’t lie. Admit it and move on.
4. Admit it to your boss.
This is always the toughest one when you’ve made a mistake. What if they fire you? What if you swear you’ll do anything to make it up? What if you promise your first born child?
First of all, calm down. No one wants your baby or your tears. If you’ve been following the steps above, you already have a clear explanation of what happened and your role in it. You already thought about how to fix it and started the steps to getting it rectified. It’s okay to cry a little while explaining these. It’s not okay to wallow. If it helps you, write down what happened and bring it with you. Also write down what you’ve already done and what you’ll do next to fix it. Include a timeline of when you’ll complete each step, and how your boss will need to get involved. Having a clear view of the situation now and in the future is the best thing you can do, for yourself and your company.
Make a big ol’ mistake at work? It’s okay. Go to the restroom, wash your face, and don’t forget to check if your mascara’s running. Then follow these four steps and get back to totally killing it at your job like you did before your slip-up, and will continue to do after. Like Bourdain says: Move on — with a sense of humor.
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