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How to Handle Mistakes at Work

As a kid, I’d often watch The Magic School Bus and listen to Ms. Frizzle proudly proclaim her love for making mistakes. She goes on to say that without making mistakes, one can’t learn and learning is necessary for growth and creativity.

Oh, if I could be a kid again!

Although Ms. Frizzle was totally right about mistakes being a part of life, an adult making mistakes (especially at work) can far more threatening consequences including being fired.

Throughout my career, I have made my share of mistakes, some big and some small, but they all had something in common, I overcame them.

Making mistakes at work brings with it a wave of emotions that sway from anger, frustration, embarrassment, and even to fear. Fear is especially common if you work for a manager who has very little tolerance or compassion for mistakes.

So how do you handle mistakes at work? Do the “Five ITs”

1. Own It- Mistakes happen. Yeah, they suck, hard! The quickest and fastest way to move on is to own it without shifting the blame onto something else, even if the mistake isn’t entirely your fault. The blame game accomplishes nothing. Don’t underestimate the kudos and respect you will earn by owning the mistake, simply and without hesitation.

2. Fix It- After owning the mistake, the next thing is to show your manager and co-workers how you plan on fixing it. A plan of action is needed here. Stop. Think. Plan. Ask for help if needed. Stay calm, think rationally, and avoid panicking.

3. Act on It- Once your plan is drafted, start moving on it quickly. Make your managers and co-workers aware of your commitment to correcting the mistake.

4. Learn from It- Take notes. Evaluate. Ask yourself: what did I learn? What were the pros and cons of this mistake? How can I avoid making this mistake in the future?

5. Move on From It- Wallowing isn’t going to do anything and nobody wants to be around it. Stop saying sorry every time you see your manager unless you want to constantly remind them of your failure. Moving on shows your commitment to learning and your professionalism.

In addition to the steps above, make it a point to protect yourself because managers and co-workers can and will throw you under the bus if it means protecting themselves. It’s a sad but the real truth about the workforce. So, as you are working on correcting the mistake document ALL your efforts, know your employee rights, and be intentional and sincere when dealing with your manager.

A good manager understands mistakes happen and will appreciate your efforts to correct them and remain supportive even helpful. Whereas a bad manager will use it as an excuse to embarrass, punish you or even fire you. So, be careful and don’t forget to protect yourself, first and foremost. I am not kidding, document ...EVERYTHING!

Ms. Frizzle was right; mistakes provide great teaching opportunities, but only if you leverage them well.

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