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How to Deal with Making Mistakes at Work

written by: N Nayab•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 8/9/2010

Most people are uncertain how to deal with making mistakes at work. The three-step way to do so is owning up responsibility for the mistake, avoiding falling into a rut, and taking each mistake as a learning experience to avoid repeating the mistake.

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    How to Deal with Making Mistakes at Work No one is perfect, and making mistakes is human nature. Only the frequency of making mistakes and the magnitude of mistakes varies among individuals. The workplace is no different, and all employees, irrespective of their competence or designation, make mistakes.

    Minor mistakes in the workplace can be something such as overwriting a file that does not affect others; major mistakes are those that affect others or the bottom-line, such as overwriting the only copy of a prospective client’s contact details.

    The repercussion of the mistake depends primarily on its impact on the bottom-line, the person's track record of making mistakes, and the standing or designation of the person making the mistake. For instance, the boss gets away with making a mistake that causes major loss, whereas a fresh probationer making the same minor mistake can be subject to dismissal.

    Image Credit: Wikimwedia Commons/Captmondo

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    Owning up Responsibility

    The first step in dealing with mistakes at work is to admit the mistake, apologize to the affected parties, and own up responsibility for the same.

    The way to do so is by:

    • Avoiding blaming others or the circumstances for the mistake.
    • Refraining from berating oneself, especially in public.
    • Listening to all criticisms with an open mind and accepting sound advice.

    The best approach to rectify the mistake is working hard such as extra hours without pay to undo the damage, or offering solutions to mitigate the loss.

    Taking ownership for the mistake actually increases one’s stature in the company and is a true mark of good character.

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    Avoid Falling into a Rut

    Side by side with taking responsibility and making amends, anyone wondering how to deal with making mistakes at work should make a determined effort to avoid falling into a rut.

    Some important considerations in the aftermath of a mistake include:

    • Sticking it out and working as usual instead of giving up or taking a leave, as it would add to the stress and loss of confidence.
    • Avoiding discussing the mistake with others, or if discussing it, doing so only in a positive manner.

    The best way to recover from a mistake is by continuing to work normally. Thinking too much about the mistake leads to erosion of self confidence or creates self doubts.

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    Learning Experience

    Correcting mistakes or making amends is not enough. The key to a successful career and progression within the company is to convert each mistake into a learning experience. The best approach is to ponder the mistake in terms such as:

    • Why the mistake happened.
    • The course of action that could have averted the mistake.
    • Various solutions.
    • The implications of the mistake.
    • Reaction of different people to the mistake and what it reveals of their character.
    • New things learned while trying to solve the mistake.
    • Safeguards required to prevent similar mistakes in the future.

    With such a careful analysis, a mistake will more often than not reveal itself as not a mistake, but rather as a wrong choice or poor application.

    The key on how to deal with making mistakes at work is to use the learning experience to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

    Some mistakes are actually a good thing; they help bring a sense of reality and help reduce over-confidence or a feeling of arrogance that develops from doing things right every time. It also helps one to remain on guard and prevents careless mistakes in the future.