So, You Screwed Up. 4 Ways to Fix (or at Least Recover) From a Mistake at Work


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After being given the opportunity to join PR Couture as an intern, I was feeling pretty proud to have landed a role working with Crosby, someone I considered a mentor (and was eager to impress). Then I botched one of my first assignments. I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say I made a terrible newbie blunder that ran counter to everything I know about the subtle art of pitching (to make it worse, this was not my first time reaching out to editors). Not only did the error reflect poorly on me, it made PR Couture appear less-than media savvy (which anyone who has spent 5 minutes with Crosby, talking shop, knows she has in spades). I was mortified and couldn’t believe that I made such a simple, obvious and rookie mistake.

The good news is, despite that rather large oops, I kept my internship and lived to tell the tale (right here, to all of you – now, what does that say about me?).

The thing is, making mistakes on the job is bound to happen sooner or later, and I’m guessing (and hoping) that you probably have a few horror stories of your own. For example, Crosby told me about the time she put the wrong 800-number on a marketing email that went out to tens of thousands of people, and Cari Shane at Sasse told me about the time she accidentally forwarded her client an email chain “lambasting — with profanity — the ineptitude of said client.” Ouch.

It is important to remember that we all make mistakes, from interns to CEOs. It’s what we do next that separates us from our snafu. And of course, mistakes aren’t only relegated to the professional space. So, whether you forgot Father’s Day or spelled an editor’s name wrong, here’s how to handle things moving forward.

Fess up fast

Whether the mistake is caught by you or your superior, it is important to admit that you made the mistake. Take responsibility for the error, address it as soon as the mistake is discovered. Your boss may be angry, your mom may be mad and you’ll be disappointed in yourself, but always admit your mistake. As LifeHack recommends “admitting your fault puts you one step closer to dealing with it, and can often be the first step towards a successful turn-around.”

Don’t beat yourself up

You’ve admitted your mistake, and now you have to deal with the consequences. Your best friend is hurt you’ll miss her birthday weekend because you forgot you had to work an event. Your boss found out that tweeted from on behalf of a client accidentally using your personal account and has limited your formerly free reign of your favorite social network. These are the facts. Worry and guilt are useless emotions that keep you in a spiral of feeling bad about what you’ve done. Accept the sticky situation, Don’t beat yourself up too much, instead take a few deep breaths and forgive yourself.

Clean it up

Now that you’ve moved beyond feeling terrible, figure out how to fix the mistake.  Sit down with your boss and discuss the issue, or better yet, bring your boss a list of solutions. By demonstrating that you have already thought through the mistake and have prepared a plan to ensure it won’t happen again, your superior will be impressed by your character (if not by your grammar). Forbes even suggested that if you “become a solution-generating employee and you’ll increase your value to your manager and to the company.” For interpersonal issues, begin to build trust by keeping your word, being extra available and thoughtful to those you love.

Move on

In Diana Laufenberg’s TED talk she said, “failure is instructional.” Be proud of the steps you have taken to own up to your blunder, provide solutions and do what you can to fix things. Now, do whatever you need to do to make sure you don’t make the same mistake again. Changing the behavior, set up reminders, double check your work and ask for help.

When we learn from our mistakes it’s possible to be almost glad they happened. After all, mine led to my first piece penned for PR Couture. No one is perfect and mistakes are really just awkward opportunities to learn to do better.

How do you handle mistakes? Share your worst with me in the comments!

Image via Dionysius Burton