The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.


Theodore Roosevelt

Mistakes at work can happen to anyone, no one is excluded. You can make mistakes in many different ways, but in order to maintain your credibility you need to deal with the situation professionally and avoid embarrassment among your colleagues.

There is no one-size-fits-all correct behaviour formula to follow after making a mistake, as it depends on many factors, including the working environment, one’s autonomy and one’s ability to discuss mistakes openly. Each case is different and should be assessed accordingly.  In this short guide we provide some useful tips to analyse the issue and act in the best way possible.

Reactions to avoid

In the childish attitudes category, there are certain behaviours that should be avoided at all costs.

Letting your emotions guide you

Emotions must be limited! Ranting, crying and silent treatments should be avoided. On the other hand, being too calm could be seen as a form of disregard for your work.

Trying to hide the mistake

In the medium to long term, hiding a mistake could be absolutely detrimental: once discovered the error will spread, making it even more difficult to find a solution. The situation will translate in less confidence on the team and management’s part. Transparency, on the other hand, helps reduce some of the tendency to hide mistakes. Sharing ideas and failures sets up an approach where everyone can learn from successes or mistakes.

Making excuses or blaming others

If you’ve made a mistake, take responsibility, even if the consequences can be frightening. Unfortunately, the fear of making a mistake or facing a complicated situation can also become a source of stress which does not remain confined to the work environment, but spreads into your private life too.

Behaviours to develop

These “reactions to avoid” are long-established good practice for many people, but when the time comes to act, for fear of making a mistake or making the situation worse, we get stuck.

Here are some tips which can be adapted for different situations.

Act immediately (if possible)

If the mistake is small and does not affect other people’s work or company objectives, try to resolve it immediately, even if it may require an ‘out of working hours’ effort.

Admit you’ve made a mistake and apologize

There is no point in trying to hide your mistake at the risk of exaggerating it. It’s necessary to apologise and to explain professionally what happened without emotional ‘slips’. If the mistake is serious, ask for a private meeting with your manager.

Come up with ideas to correct the error

If you’ve got time think of several solutions and proposals to solve the problem. In this way you can demonstrate your problem solving skills. Any subsequent success should not be over-emphasised but should remind you that it all started with a mistake.

In conclusion?

Every mistake is an incentive to learn and to avoid repeating it.

The advice is to always re-evaluate your way of working and your ability to manage projects: you will be able to identify why you made a mistake and improve your future efficiency.

Leave a comment