Made a Mistake at Work? Five Steps to Recover Quickly


“I’ve had so much on my plate at the end of this year that I totally spaced out on an important project timeline at work. I’m so mad at myself! How can I make things better?” — Michael from Portland, OR


First of all, know that we’ve all been there! As hard as we try to keep all of our deadlines and details in order, Murphy’s Law dictates that we’re bound to let something slip every now and then. To bounce back quickly, it’s important to know how to acknowledge your mistake in the moment and move forward productively.

Consider this five-step process the next time that you make a mistake:

  1. Take a deep breath. It’s easy to go into panic mode immediately after you realize you’ve made an error – particularly if the oversight has significant impacts on your company. This fight-or-flight reaction can be damaging to the decision-making process – before you send any emails or make any phone calls, try to calm down and develop a quick action plan using the following steps.
  2. Fess up! The hardest part of dealing with your mistake is admitting to your boss or project manager that you made it. Resist the urge to delay the conversation and don’t sit around hoping that nobody will notice. Have a face-to-face conversation as soon as possible with the relevant parties to let them know what happened.
  3. Cut the excuses. When you’re talking with your boss or other parties impacted by your mistake, it can be tempting to offer excuses for what happened or to blame other people in your company. Instead, admit honestly that you made a mistake and then move quickly into a discussion on how you can help remedy the situation.
  4. Offer solutions. If your mistake isn’t irreversible, offer to remedy the situation yourself – even if it means putting in extra hours at the end of the day or on the weekend to get it done. If it isn’t as easy as that, brainstorm several possible solutions before talking with your supervisor – it will show that you’re committed to solving the problem you’ve created rather than expecting everyone else to pick up the slack.
  5. Get over it. While it’s important to learn from your mistakes, it’s equally important not to dwell on them. Reflect on what led to the mistake – such as a lack of organization or external distractions – and take steps to minimize those risk factors in your future work. But don’t beat yourself up over it – just like everything that happens in an organization, this too shall pass!

Readers – if you have your own stories or suggestions about how to move forward following a mistake, we invite you to share your perspectives in the comments section below.