The “Just Right” Reaction When You Mess Up at Work
It has happened to all of us. You are working merrily in your office, juggling your files, checking your hyperactive inbox and attending phone call after a phone call.
It is a typical day for you and you are going about your business as calmly as you could.
Suddenly, you realize you have made a mistake.
Your face goes pale, your heart sinks and you have a rush of an adrenaline.
To err is human. You are going to make mistakes, no matter how careful you try to be.
Whether it is a small error such as not attaching a document with your email or a major glitch which can cost you your job, the way you react to it is actually going to determine how you survive your own mess.
It is not only the words which flash through your mind, but the actions you take immediately after you commit the mistake also matter a lot.
Unfortunately, we instinctively react either two dramatically or calmly to recover quickly from a mistake or to cover up what happened respectively.
It is like a wide spectrum and we tend to sit on either edge of it depending on the severity of the mistake.
On one side, you may tend to speak too much (of course unnecessarily) and react too quickly in an attempt to minimize the damage.
On the other hand, you will try to find ways to defend yourself, and totally cover up your error in a haste.
Remember that you have to do everything to clear the mess you have created.
Taking measures for self-defense and seeking help from others are natural reactions whenever you are in trouble.
However, you must take responsibility for your mistakes at work and therefore, reacting extremely to them will put you in greater trouble.
Messing up things at work can have serious consequences for you.
At best, your boss will verbally reprimand you. At worst, you can lose your job if you have inflicted irreparable damage to the company’s public image, credibility, and earnings.
You will naturally be ashamed and embarrassed.
More importantly, your own credibility will be called in question. Take a deep breath and relax. You are going to get through these difficult times.
HOW TO REACT WHEN YOU MESS UP AT WORK
All you have to do is to portray poise and confidence while being apparently concerned and sorry.
Your reaction should neither be too dramatic or too docile.
It should be “Just Right” and you will nullify the impacts of your error rather easily.
Do not React too Dramatically
What should you do as soon as you realize that you have messed up?
Should you go out screaming and telling everyone you come across that you have made a mistake? Or, you should repeat hysterically that you are sorry again and again for 30 minutes or so?
Unfortunately, most of us do exactly the same.
In fact, this is the worst approach you can adopt in these circumstances.
This is the silliest and the most destructive way you can react. This reaction is totally uncalled for because most of the errors in the workplace, such as a spelling mistake or being late to the office are not job threatening at all.
Similarly, they will not put your company out of the business.
This type of reaction entails many problems for you. You are trying your best to show remorse and that you care for the organization.
But, others will perceive you as a hysteric and less-confident person.
They will definitely think that you snap under pressure and cannot handle chaotic situations at your own.
Most of all, you happen to be too annoying and irritating for everyone else in your office.
Everyone makes mistakes and there is inherently nothing wrong with it.
But overreacting to small or even major mistakes means you are wasting everyone’s time and of course, the company’s money.
The company has hired you and others to do billable work no matter you are an engineer, consultant or a lawyer. You need to refrain from any activity which falls under the category of non-billable work.
When you keep on stressing and apologizing for your mistake, you get other’s attention for a prolonged period of time.
Their productivity has decreased because they are too focused on your fiasco.
You are not letting them do the billable work which will earn money for the company all of your work for.
Instead of taking actionable steps to resolve the problem, you are wrecking more havoc to the interests of your company.
Sometimes, there is no other option but to apologize for your blunders. But, your apology should not linger on and on. K
eep it brief and swift such as, “Hi boss, I have made a terrible mistake, but I am working to resolve the problem.”
Most often, this is the only sentence you need to say and things will be back to normal. There should be no justification and no excuses.
Never verbally flog yourself.
Just recognize the fact that you have made a mistake and move on.
People are so occupied with their own issues, projects, and goals that they won’t even remember that you made a mistake after a few days.
You will feel embarrassed, frustrated or even distraught for some 15-20 seconds in response to a mistake or other stressful situations.
However, you should let the feelings go ideally after that time.
You should be able to recover and get over the turmoil. You may continue to have a hint of negativity, but anything more than that means you are in line for a total disaster.
Sometimes, however, you cannot get rid of emotions despite your best efforts.
They keep on strengthening inside your mind instead of dissipating peacefully. They are just like swirling steam, which builds inside a kettle.
You have to release your emotions as soon as possible and in a healthy manner otherwise, you will keep on creating more problems for your colleagues and the company.
Try to keep things in perspective when you are upset with something.
It is difficult to keep your emotional response proportional to the mistake you have mad but not impossible.
Again, no one is going to die because of your blunders at work unless you are a doctor, pilot, or a soldier.
You can, in fact, correct and resolve most of the mistakes right away without being overemotional and hysterical.
So, you and others will live even if you double-book an important meeting, attach a wrong file to an email or make a typo in your rough draft. Your mistakes have not inflicted any fatal wound to anyone in your office.
You should love your job and display thorough professionalism.
Try to give your best at work.
Don’t take everything to your head because no one will die due to your small, negligible mistakes.
Ultimately, it is just an error, not a life or death situation.
Do Not React Too Calmly
We have established that you should not freak out when you make a mistake.
Some people will recommend keeping quiet and carrying on performing your routine duties as nothing has happened.
Some will advise you to reveal your mistake after a few days after evaluating its impact on the overall performance of your company.
You do all those things because you do not want to look bad or tarnish your reputation as a good profitable worker.
To be honest, you will overcomplicate the matters by delaying your reaction or totally covering up the mistake.
What if someone else, especially your boss realizes that you have messed up.
You will most probably resort to all sorts of lame excuses or try to convince him that it is not a big deal, and your mistake will not adversely affect the company’s profits.
However, nothing you can do will help you easily brush the issue aside.
You may argue that your intentions are pure.
By hiding the mistake, you are making sure that nobody else in the company panics and everyone keeps on working smoothly.
You are actually trying to mitigate and protect your reputation.
Although, you are thinking positively, yet others will take you as an insincere and selfish person, someone who always has his own ax to grind.
Most importantly, your boss will have an opinion that you do not care about your job at all.
To be honest, your reaction is common, to say the least.
About 90% of employees try to conceal their mistakes, both big or small.
Whenever we make a mistake, we strive to divert blame to something or someone else to protect our own egos.
In simple words, owning our mistakes is one of the most difficult things to do in this world.
It is a natural psychological phenomenon.
Very few people in the world have the courage to admit their mistakes, nothing to talk about providing viable solutions for them.
But, when you cover an error which can potentially damage your company in one way or another, you showcase yourself as a dishonest, cunning and deceitful person.
You also give an impression to your coworkers that you do not care for the company and for them when you do not seek help from others or put forward your own action steps to resolve the problem.
Similarly, you also risk making the situation worse over the time.
The “Just Right” Reaction
You can resolve any problem successfully without making a fuss if you manage to find the right path to take.
It is not very difficult to find this elusive path or reaction either.
You just have to take care of some important things and everything will be fine.
Never react instantly to an error to start with.
Your first step should be to analyze the problem and look out for possible solutions yourself before seeking help or informing others of your mistake.
Act immediately if you can address the problem at your own.
For example, if you have sent an email to the client without attaching an important document, you can send him another email with the document.
You can even call him and apologize for any inconvenience you may have caused him.
This is a much better approach than reacting dramatically to even the smallest of mistakes like typos and being late for a presentation.
The situation will be more complicated and it will require more introspection if your mistake is not retractable.
In this case, you must devise a viable action plan to tackle the problem even before you leave your computer or desk.
For instance, think about the person you trust and talk to before doing anyone else.
You should be absolutely sure that he is someone you can fall back upon and he will not deceive you.
Subsequently, he should be the only person you should approach.
Describe everything to him in a clear and concise manner. Be grateful to him for utilizing his valuable time and appreciate his help.
Confer with your friend for as long as necessary and come out with all the solutions to control the damage caused by your blunder.
Now, go to your boss, apologize and assert that you are taking remedial actions.
Keep in mind that your mistake is also your opportunity to show your mettle and prove your worth.
Your boss will see you as a confident, resourceful person who is able to deliver under pressure and cares about the company if you manage to fix the problem yourself.
Similarly, the more quickly you fix the problem, better will be your chances to escape the punishment.
In addition, you can enhance your reputation as a quick problem solver, which will provide you with more opportunities to make progress by leaps and bounds.
MOVING ON AFTER A MISTAKE
It is always difficult to resume a normal life after you make an error which put your job in danger.
However, life moves on after every tragedy, no matter how big it is and so should you.
Once everything is over and you are ready to start afresh, the following steps can help you recover rather quickly.
Do Not Exaggerate the Consequences
Every mistake has its consequences in life.
However, these consequences are negligible to mild in sensitivity most of the times.
It is our mind which distorts and exaggerates them, causing more agony and stress for us.
As a result, we keep on making more mistakes instead of learning from our previous ones.
It is better to confront your worst feelings if you want to restore your internal peace.
Only then you will be able to move on with your life. Sometimes, you even think you will lose your job because you have messed up badly. In reality, it is least likely to happen.
In fact, your company will have to invest a lot of time and money to find your worthy replacement.
But, if you are fired, you will survive because you are strong and resourceful.
You will get through this and will let nothing, even a job loss, to destroy your life.
Plan for the Future
Wise men always say that you should learn from your mistakes.
Therefore, analyze your mistakes and think about how you can avoid them in the future.
Were you working too hard to meet a deadline? Is multi-tasking beyond your capabilities? Does your boss micromanage? Did you miss important details of the project? Were you simply not paying much attention to your job due to problems at home?
Identify the issues which you need to address and address them immediately.
Take Better Care of Yourself
Sleep deprivation is one of the most prevalent maladies in the world at the moment.
In fact, persistent sleep deprivation can result in impaired problem solving, attention, alertness, reasoning, and concentration.
Some mental experts argue that working when you need to sleep is as bad as working while you are drunk.
You can also associate declining performance at work to dehydration, poor nutrition, sleepiness, lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyle.
It is time to pay attention to your physical health if you do not want to repeat the same mistakes in the future.
Actions Not Words
Performing brilliantly and consistently delivering high-quality work is the only way to win back the trust you lost due to your blunders.
In fact, your boss will quickly forget or forgive your minor mistakes if you have been a star employee for the company for a long time.
The bottom line is that one mistake, whether big or small, should not put your life in disarray.
Some of the most successful people in history failed several times before they were able to leave their mark on history.
The point is that you can reinvent yourself even after dramatic public failures.
You have the ability to learn from your past and create a successful and amazing life for you.
Summing up, everyone is prone to making mistakes. As a human, it is in our nature.
However, you and your colleagues will recover and forget everything after every mistake, no matter how bad it feels and looks when it first happens.
In fact, your mistake is your golden ticket to impress your superiors and peers. If handled properly, it can do more good to you than harm.
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