How to Bounce Back from Making a Big Mistake at Work

Mistakes happen and while most people don’t plan on making mistakes at work, they seem to be inevitable.  Just because you’ve made a mistake doesn’t mean you are doomed.  You can prove your worth in the recovery of that mistake, if handled properly.

So you’ve made a mistake and chances are, you’re freaking out a little.  The last thing you want, especially in this economy, is any sort of a target on your back at your job.  So what can you do to bounce back?

  1. Stop.  Chances are, your adrenaline is skyrocketing and your mind is running a million miles a minute.  This is the worst time to make a decision.  Stop, take a break and calm down for a moment.  If you are calm, you’ll be able to think more clearly.
  2. Assess the situation.  Most people will need the help of coworkers to resolve work problems, so step back and review the mistake so you can explain it to your boss and whomever else you need to include.  A thorough investigation can be performed once it is resolved so focus on the basic facts at this point.  Write down the most important points of the situation that need to be discussed first.
  3. Come up with some solutions. Before moving to the next step, determine some solutions to the problem.  Having multiple choices can make it easier to resolve the problem and shows you are prepared to fix the problem.
  4. Fess up. The error needs to be reported as soon as possible so it can be resolved.  While many articles say to fess up first, I believe it is important to complete the first three steps first so you can introduce the problem with a quick analysis and possible solutions so you can make the most of your time with your problem-solving team.  If you present the issue when you are prepared, you can all focus on a resolution immediately, you can resolve your problem much faster, giving your customer the best results.  Make sure you fess up quickly, however.  Do not let the problem linger for more than a few minutes.
  5. Fix it. This is your error so you need to see it through to resolution.  Even if you aren’t the one assigned to completing the resolution, make sure you follow through with each step of the solution to ensure everything goes as planned.
  6. Follow up. Once you have seen the solution to completion, follow up with your customer and those involved in the resolution to let them know the problem has been resolved.  This is a great time to publicly acknowledge and thank those who helped.  This is also a time to sit down with your supervisor to discuss how the mistake happened and how you intend to prevent it from happening in the future.
  7. Step it up. Chances are, even if you handled the resolution flawlessly, you may have additional eyes on you making sure you do not make any more mistakes.  This is your time to show your coworkers what you’re made out of.  Take a little extra time to check your work and take steps to prevent the problem from happening again.
In most cases, a mistake is not the end of your career, but how you handle it can greatly impact your reputation at your job.  By staying calm and being prepared to take on the challenge of resolving the issue, you can turn a big mistake into an example of your excellent problem solving skills (and maybe even get a promotion!).

What problems have you had to deal with?  What has worked?  What hasn’t worked?

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