Work + Growth

You Can Recover from Making Mistakes

  • While your gut might tell you to quit or feign illness and wait for things to blow over, facing an unpleasant situation head on will benefit you in the long run
  • As tempting as it might be to pass the blame, it’s better to own up to any mistakes you’ve made to those who are affected by them
  • No matter the error you’ve committed, it’s important to keep things in perspective: Remember that you’re not the first person to mess up and certainly won’t be the last

We hate to break it to you, but sooner or later you’re going to make a mistake at work.

And no matter how much you’ve prepared or how hard you’ve worked to be perfect, it might be a pretty big one.

While your gut instinct might be to quit immediately or to feign illness and hide under the covers waiting for things to blow over, doing so won’t make the situation any better.

It’s not necessarily easy to recover from making a mistake at work, but it can be simple. Here are five steps to help recover from a slip-up on the job.

  1. Acknowledge and Apologize

Even if there is only a tiny chance someone else will discover your error, you should start by admitting your mistake to those who were or will be affected by it. Resist the urge to try to fix things on your own unless you’re absolutely certain you can, and that doing so doesn’t overstep your seniority or level of responsibility. Acknowledge wrongdoing to those who should know and be clear about exactly what happened. Be sure to apologize if the situation calls for it.

  1. Take Ownership

Don’t defer or shirk off responsibility for your mistake, no matter how tempting it might be to pass the blame. Instead, own up to what happened and accept the consequences. You might have to put in some extra hours, meet with a client again, or speak to someone in HR, but do whatever it takes to make things right. When explaining what happened to your superiors, use clear and concise language and leave no room for misunderstanding. This might be the hardest part, but most likely your colleagues will respect you for taking ownership of your mistakes.

  1. Keep it in Perspective

You aren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last person to mess up at your firm. Think of other times where you made a mistake that seemed calamitous at the time. Did it end up being as bad as you thought?

While it might feel like your colleagues are the epitome of perfection, they aren’t (because no lawyer is). When mentally processing what has happened, be sure to remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes, no matter how well prepared they might be or how hard they try to be perfect. Chances are, if you handle everything appropriately, your career and your future will be just fine – it probably just doesn’t feel like it right now.

  1. Learn for the Future

Ask yourself how you can prevent such a mistake from happening again. Is there a way you can be more thorough or careful in the future? Use this opportunity as a learning experience, and spend some time analyzing how things went wrong. Be sure, when speaking to your superiors, to emphasize that you’ve learned from what happened and that it won’t happen again. Be prepared, if asked, to explain how you’ll prevent such a mistake from being repeated.

  1. Earn Back Trust

While steps 1-4 on this list won’t take much time at all, earning back the trust of your colleagues might take a while. Earning back trust requires time and action, not just saying the right things, which means going even more above and beyond than you probably already were. Be prepared to be under the microscope by your superiors for a while and accept that it might feel like you’re in a trial period for a few weeks or months. The only way to prove you’re trustworthy is time, however, and patience and commitment to your goal will go a long way.

When it comes to recovering from any mistake on the job, the most important thing to remember is that the world isn’t coming to an end. Being honest and open about what happened and working hard to prove you’ve learned your lesson isn’t necessarily easy, but you’ll be respected for taking ownership of any errors you commit. Be sure, no matter what, to frame any mistake as an opportunity to learn for the future.