Handling a Mistake at Work

With Aimee Bateman

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Handling a Mistake at Work


So you've made a mistake at work. Gulp. How do you handle it? Let Aimee show you how to own your mistake and pull through.

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Hi, I’m Aimee Bateman, career coach and founder of Careercake. So you’ve made a mistake at work. Maybe you forgot to send everybody that email, that confirmation email containing the change of date, maybe the change of venue, for that really important event. Or maybe you sent a round robin email, but you CC’d everybody rather than BCC’d everybody, and now everybody has seen each other’s’ email addresses.

And if anybody has ever done that, you will know what I’m talking about, you will have felt the fear in the moment that you realise. Or maybe your mistake is a little bit more consequential, maybe you’ve really messed up. Now you’ve lost a client, maybe you’ve lost a supplier relationship, and you just really wish this wasn’t happening and that you could turn back the clock. You might be feeling a bit embarrassed, you might be feeling a bit ashamed, you might be worried that your employer’s reputation, or maybe your own reputation, is going to be a bit damaged. Well I’m here to tell you that the world is not about to end, I promise you, you will get through this. You’re going to learn a lesson, which is going to make you smarter, faster, more resilient in your personal life moving forward, and I know that sounds major cheesy and cliché, but I promise you it’s true. I have felt the sickness, the embarrassment, the anxiety, I’ve also cried a few times, but I’ve come out of it, and I’m standing in front of you now as a successful CEO. I’m more accomplished and respected than I ever thought I would be, especially back in those fearful mistake moments. Everything great about me, everything that I like about me, has come from a screw up in the past, and it’s the same for you. Now we of course want to minimise those mistakes, but when they happen, if we handle them right, we can actually solidify our reputation, and enhance our problem solving skills in the process. So in this insight video, I’m going to give you your step by step recovery plan to handle mistakes at work.


Ok, firstly, I really want you to admit it to everyone before they notice the mistake. By being the one that’s open, and talking about it first, you’re going to diffuse everyone’s reactions, and that way everyone, including you, can focus on fixing it. And don’t buffer, or wrap around it, nothing is more frustrating than when somebody is trying to explain something that’s gone wrong and they’re not getting to the point. Their frustration levels are just going to go up and up, they’re going to feel panicky, they’re going to be thinking is this ok, is it worse than you’re explaining, just tell me, I don’t get it. Make sure that you’re clear so that everybody can assess the situation and minimise the panic.


This is really important, don’t try and hide it. I know that you might be feeling really, really scared right now but, but don’t be sneaky, I know it’s tempting. Mistakes can be fixed, but without honestly and integrity, your relationships cannot be fixed. That’s really important, don’t try and hide it.


And then I want you to just say that you’re really, really sorry, and mean it. Let them know that you understand that it’s going to take money, time, both to fix this, you understand the repercussions and you’re seriously sorry. For me, this act alone is probably the most important part, I’m pretty cool after this I just want to know that you respect me, you respect my time, you respect your team’s time, and that you’re sorry.


The next I want you to recognise, to them, show them that you know why the mistake happened. To regain trust in your ability they need to understand that you know why you messed up. If you don’t know what you did wrong, how do they know that you won’t do it again, how do you know that you won’t do it again. If you don’t recognise it, if you don’t know what the missing link was, you could well repeat it, and that’s quite scary for your boss and for other people in the team. It’s much easier to forgive if we feel confident that the mistake isn’t going to happen again.


Next I want you to take full responsibility for your actions, that’s right, your actions. You had a part to play in this so don’t play the blame game, or throw people under the bus, it’s tempting because you’re scared but that’s cheap and nasty behaviour and I promise it will come back to bite you in the backside. You may have hired somebody to do a job for you, maybe you’re managing a project and you delegated a piece of work out, so then you go back to your boss and say well do you know what, Jeff didn’t send this to me on time or Margaret was meant to do this but she didn’t. As your boss, I’d be saying to you, well did you manage Jeff’s expectations, did you tell Margaret what the repercussions were of her not doing that on time. Did you catch up with her to check that she was comfortable with it? Did you communicate things in a way that they could understand? Did you offer support? Did you have progress conversations? All that kind of stuff. You know that’s just an example, but if someone lets me down, the first thing I think is what did I do wrong, what did I not communicate or maybe did I communicate something and it just wasn’t in the way that they needed to hear it. I don’t play the blame game; I will blame myself. I’d think did I ask the wrong person in the first place. So next time something happens and you feel like you’re just tempted to blame somebody else, don’t. We can’t and we won’t ever be able to control other people’s actions, we can only control our own, what we do and how we react, and people will respect and trust you a lot more if you take responsibility for your own actions.


Next devise an action plan and get your team involved. You might be feeling a bit stupid and bit vulnerable. You might be thinking well I feel really stupid, if I go to them now they’re all going to make me feel even more stupid because they’re going to have ideas and they’re going to know how to fix it and I’m feeling really, really vulnerable and my confidence is low. It’s ok because I’m sure in the future you’re going to have an opportunity to help them, as well. I want you to use this opportunity to build relationships with your team, let them help you, people like helping people. People want to feel needed and special so use this as an opportunity to build on those relationships with your team.


Don’t beat yourself up about it. The way in which you handle your mistakes, you should handle in the exact same way that you would handle if a colleague made a mistake. You shouldn’t be neither more tolerant nor tougher on yourself, be careful how you talk to yourself and think would you be this mean to one of your colleagues if they messed up? No, so why are you being this mean on yourself, be a bit more forgiving.


And then the next thing is to ensure that you’ve constantly got a clear head so that you can implement this action plan that either you and your colleagues as a team have put together, and get this problem dealt with.


There we go, just to recap:

·      be the first to admit it

·      don’t try to hide it

·      apologise sincerely

·      understand why the mistake happened

·      take responsibility

·      keep a clear head

·      devise an action plan

·      don’t beat yourself up

·      implement the fix


Now, I want to end this insight video on this. Mistakes usually happen when we’re new to something, when we’re new to a function, they happen when we’re new to a task or we haven’t used this skillset before. Are you trying new things? Because that’s good, that’s how we grow, that’s how we develop. We don’t really make mistakes when we’re in a comfort zone because everything is so easy, so normal. Of course that’s ok, but have you ever heard the quote “magic happens when we push ourselves out of our comfort zone”? It’s one of my favourite quotes, so if you want to grow, if you want to develop, if want to find your superpowers and you want to thrive in your career which I know that you do, you’re going to need to try new things for the first time. Recognise that you will make mistakes, it’s a fact. Just prepare yourself for the consequences, that’s all.

It may be that you’ve dealt with the mistake so well in future that you’re going to do all the things in this video, your relationships and your reputation are going to be stronger than they were before because you know how to handle yourself. It may be on occasions that you do have to rebuild trust and it takes time and that’s alright, you just need to accept that. But focus on the value add moving forward, don’t keep apologising for it.  You’ve dealt with it well, just get on with adding value within your organisation. Just position yourself as a person who makes good things happen as quickly as possible, so put it behind you and get on with being awesome.