10 Fool-Proof Ways to Overcome a Mistake at Work

Stressed businessman covering his head on desk

Made a mistake at work and not sure how to handle it? If so, you’ve come to the right place!

Whether it’s something small like jamming the printer or something worse like booking the wrong flights for a client, there’s always a way to recover from making mistakes and save your professional credibility in the process.

And we’ll show you how with our 10-step guide.

1. Keep Calm

Your first reaction is to probably panic when you’re faced with a pressing issue at work. Instead, you should stay calm and take charge of the situation. After all, stressing out will get you nowhere and it may even result in you making more mistakes, which – we all know – should be avoided at all costs.

You should deal with the problem with a clear head so you can figure out the best solution in a calm and professional manner. There’s no need to panic, shout or cause a scene! Don’t forget that you’re in a professional environment and should always handle things peacefully.

2. Find a Solution

You might have made a massive mistake – maybe you charged a client the wrong amount and the company has to take a hit or you booked your boss’s hotel stay for the wrong evening and only realised on the day of their arrival.

The most important thing is to not panic and to find a way to resolve the issue. Whether it’s negotiating with suppliers for a cheaper rate to cover the cost for your under-pricing or begging the hotel for a change in arrival days, there’s usually one way or another that you can control the issue and do some damage control before it gets any worse.

3. Own Up to It

Finding a solution, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to sweep it under the rug and pretend that the problem never existed. If you do, it will creep out of the woodworks one way or another, and you’ll only look bad because you hadn’t said anything previously.

At the earliest convenience, you should ask to speak to your boss quietly and let them know what happened – but choose your time wisely! You don’t want to deliver bad news to them if they’re already in a bad mood, especially if you’re dealing with a bad boss.

4. Analyse What Went Wrong

Once you’ve overcome the problem and found a solution, you should analyse what went wrong. Did you overlook an important piece of information? Did you forget to confirm something which caused the problem?

By finding out what didn’t work, you can identify issues that you have in your daily working system. It could be that you were distracted or you didn’t pay enough attention to the details. Essentially, you should identify where you messed up and what you can do differently next time.

5. Don’t Dwell on It

Although you might be feeling down about your mistake and may have lost the will to work, as well as the confidence that you had when you first started, you shouldn’t dwell on it for too long or let it affect your future work.

You shouldn’t bring unnecessary attention to your error, either. If it’s all you seem to talk about, it’s all you’ll be remembered for – and you really don’t want to be known as the guy or gal that messed up for your entire career.

6. Learn from Your Mistake

Now that you’ve identified where you went wrong, you should put some measures in place to make sure you don’t make the same mistake twice. Let’s say you booked the wrong flights for your VIP clients, and after a little investigation you discovered that you had a miscommunication with their agent and received two different dates. After this experience, you should know to double-check all the information that’s provided before proceeding to make any further arrangements.

7. Don’t Play the Victim Card

If you mess up at work, don’t play the victim card and try to pass the buck on an unsuspecting colleague. Even if there were a few of you involved, you should own up to your mistake and take responsibility for your actions.

Passing the buck is one of the worst ways to handle making a mistake and will show that you have the qualities of a bad employee. Your excuses and explanations will only imply that you can’t take responsibility and are not genuinely sorry for the mess you made.

8. Gain Back Your Boss’s Trust

A small mistake won’t hinder your relationship with your boss – in fact, they probably won’t even remember it tomorrow. But a big one is a little bit harder to swallow.

If you’ve messed up badly, you’ll need to put some measures in place to gain back both your boss’s – and your colleagues’ – trust, and place yourself back in line for the next promotion. How you do this is up to you, but one fool-proof way is taking on extra tasks that are achievable and easy to accomplish to show that you can manage your workload and succeed. Another way is to get in early and leave a little later to portray that you’re doing all you can to make amends and fix any issues that you created.

9. Don’t Jump Ship

When you mess up at work, the first solution that comes to mind is quitting and finding another job – you’ve probably ruined your chances here, right?! Wrong! It’s probably a much bigger deal to you and your personal development than it is to the company and theirs. You’ll also never learn how to deal with the consequences to your actions if you continue to run away from all your problems. You need to weather the storm in order to come out stronger on the other side. Eventually, the problem will blow over, everyone will resume to their usual positions and not a word will be spoken of the issue. What's more, if you do consider jumping ship after making a mistake at work, you’ll most likely kiss a good reference ‘goodbye’.

10. Remember You’re Not Alone

If you’re feeling like you’re the dumbest person in the world – stop! Thousands of people have been in your position before you and thousands will come after you. In fact, your boss may have even made the same mistake and will be a little more understanding than you think! We’ve all accidentally sent an email without an attachment, made a typo in an important email or missed our alarm and arrived incredibly late and flustered to work – we’re all human, and we’re all going to make mistakes now and again.

Even if you’re a star employee, there will be times where you may screw up. What’s important is how you handle your mistakes, solve the problems you make and move on without letting anything affect your attitude and work ethic. It’s all about personal development and professional growth!

Have you made any terrible mistakes at work? If so, join in on the conversation below and let us know how you overcame them!