A project you were in charge of failed. Or the company is getting sued because of something you did or didn’t do. Whatever happened, it was a big-time error, and it was yours — or you’re being held responsible.
You can run away to join the circus, fake a heart attack to distract attention, or do the professionally savvy thing: Run damage control.
Mistakes happen — there’s no getting around it. But how you deal with your mistakes is what really counts.
These proven tips will take some of the sting out of the experience — and help you salvage your reputation. The advice is adapted from the business book A New Attitude by Marian Thomas.
8 Steps to Recover From a Major Error on the Job
1. Take responsibility.
Own it, baby. Nobody wants to hear a litany of 50 excuses. Taking responsibility for your mistakes vs. pointing the finger of blame is what separates the winners from the also-rans. Taking responsibility makes you appear strong and in control. Making excuses makes you look weak and inept.
2. Analyze the failure.
Take the time to figure out what really went wrong — and devise a plan for how you’re going to keep whatever happened from happening again. You’re in a much better position if you can assure the powers-that-be that you’ve got the situation under control.
3. Avoid beating yourself up.
This one mistake, no matter how major it was, doesn’t mean you’re incompetent. Or that your career is over. It simply means you made a mistake. Negative self-talk is only going to make you feel worse, so stop reading yourself the riot act in your head.
4. Keep it in perspective.
Try the 5 Test: Ask yourself, “How much will this mistake matter within my company in 5 days? In 5 weeks? In 5 months? In 5 years?” Avoid thinking of this as a life-or-death situation. Failure on the job is a temporary setback.
5. Talk it over with someone you trust.
Get your frustrations, anger, and fears out in the open by talking with a trusted person OUTSIDE your organization. It could be professional suicide to discuss your feelings with a coworker who’d share your pain with the wrong people.
6. Give it time.
Give yourself sufficient time to recover and regroup from the experience, but don’t let it drag on too long. In the meantime, put on your game face. Looking like the walking wounded will not instill confidence in others. Be positive, even if you have to fake it.
7. Consider training.
If the mistake or failed project was the result of lack of a specific skill or technical expertise, seek out training. Workshops, seminars, audiotapes, books, and online learning are all great ways to improve your skills fast — and boost your confidence.
8. Get over it!
Think of the mistake or failure as an education, and learn from it. Then move on. Dwell on failure, and it will paralyze you.
Keep in mind that everyone suffers failure at one time or another. Many of the enormously successful people throughout history have failed numerous times before achieving success.
Whenever you take a risk, there’s a chance for failure. But if you’re never willing to take risks, you won’t move forward. Think of your error or failure as a beginning, not an end.