It happens to everyone. There is no one working today who hasn’t made a mistake at work. Whether it’s forgetting to lock the back door when you leave, introducing spelling mistakes in your new business-related Facebook update or leaving the break room coffeepot on when you heat up your morning cup, you will likely make a mistake someday.
So, if you make a mistake, own up to it. It’s especially important if you need to fix it.
But, some ways of owning up are better than others. Here are three best practices on how to do it.
1. Don’t get overly emotional
Before coming clean, take a deep breath. Stay calm. Remember, don’t let emotions get involved during the situation. They can only make things worse. So, no tears. No repetition of how sorry you are. No hiding.
Even if you see a wanted promotion flying away as a result of the mistake, remember it’s unlikely the perception of you will change due to one mistake. Good managers evaluate your performance over time. They keep things in perspective. So, should you.
2. Follow appropriate channels to report it
The purpose of owning up to a mistake is not to turn the spotlight on your behavior. It is to correct the mistake, if possible. Lock the door from now on, for example. Fix the spelling mistake. Turn off the coffee pot. (And post a reminder.)
Follow the appropriate channels to fix it. That’s either your supervisor, assuming you were assigned the responsibility because your supervisor was in charge overall, or the people most directly affected.
Don’t immediately rush to your best friend at work and report it. Don’t pass it through the grapevine. Don’t tell the first person you see. Don’t send it over email or other public communication. None of these people or channels are the ones necessarily affected or the ones who can fix the mistake.
3. Don’t excessively apologize
Some people advise never apologizing at work. Meaning: don’t say you’re sorry. You can indicate you know something is a mistake by going through channels to fix it. Apologizing repeatedly can be interpreted as you’re unable to handle the pressure in the workplace.
If you do apologize, just do it once. Remember that everyone makes mistakes.
The better plan is simply to use any feedback to learn from the situation. Then don’t make the mistake again!
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