5 Steps to Successfully Recover from a Mistake at Work

5 Steps to Successfully Recover from a Mistake at Work
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Top Performers Know How to Successfully Recover from a Mistake at Work
We know from leadership simulation assessment data that top leaders know how to quickly and successfully recover from a mistake at work. Sure, we all make mistakes, but the path you take to recover and reestablish your credibility with both peers and management is critical.

The key steps to mistake recovery at work should be part of every project postmortem. Even if there are successes to celebrate, there are always steps in the process that could have been handled more skillfully. Take note, project managers, on how to admit mistakes and move on to the next challenge.

The 5 Steps to Successfully Recover from a Mistake at Work

  1. Reflect
    Take a moment to step back and think about what really happened. When you first realize the problem, you may be embarrassed, upset, or defensive. Wait until emotions subside so you can thoroughly analyze the current situation more objectively.

    First confirm in your own mind that you were largely responsible for the mess-up. Sometimes others point the finger to avoid blame themselves. Then resist the impulse to dash in and “fix” things. A serious problem deserves a serious and thoughtful response.

    Some good reflection questions are:

    —  What happened?
    —  What was my role in what happened?
    —  What were the consequences of my actions?
    —  What can I learn from this experience?
    —  What will I do differently going forward?

  2. Plan Your Strategy
    Think carefully about what you need to own up to and to whom to begin to make things right. Ideally select a neutral setting and set up a face-to-face meeting to have a meaningful and vulnerable conversation. It will take courage but it is the only way to maintain your integrity and your professional standing.

  3. Face the Situation Squarely
    Admit your fault and authentically apologize for the mistake. But do this only once, or maybe twice. According to Psychology Today, apologizing twice might be useful to emphasize the sincerity of the regret, apologizing more than twice erases the apology. Too many apologies shifts the apology from being concerned about the other person’s feelings to dwelling on the apologizer’s guilt.

    It takes courage to be able to recognize and admit when we’ve made a mistake. Here are there tips for more effective and sincere apologies:

    — Apologize as soon as possible, so resentment doesn’t build
    — Start with the word “I”
    — Specifically mention the action(s) you regret
    — Acknowledge the impact of your actions on the other person

  4. Propose Next Steps
    After sincerely apologizing and acknowledge the negative impact of your actions, it is time to outline your plan to (1) make amends and (2) ensure that the problem will not happen again. Now is the time to look for proportionate solutions.

    You should have several ideas in mind. Share them and ask for feedback. The impression you want to give is that you understand and accept accountability, have learned from the experience, and are prepared to make decisions differently next time.

  5. Get Back to Work
    Do not belabor the issue. You have taken responsibility, made amends, and crafted a plan to improve going forward. Focus on executing the plan you and your stakeholders have agreed upon and move on.

The Bottom Line
To successfully recover from a mistake at work takes self-awareness, self-compassion, and a sense of vulnerability. Setbacks at work can be embarrassing. You may need to work hard to change your behavior, earn people’s trust, and repair your reputation.

To learn more about how to successfully recover from a mistake at work, download The Top 10 Project Management Mistakes and How to Prevent Them from Destroying Your Next Project

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