Once upon a time, there was an events planner named Julie. She was very good at her job, but she tended to over-stress when the pressure was on. One day, when handling a very high-profile event, her boss sent her an email suggesting a series of last-minute changes to items Julie had already put in place. Julie, frustrated, forwarded the email to one of her colleagues, with a private note attached: “Why doesn’t she plan the event if she’s so damn perfect?” And then she hit… “Reply” instead of “Forward”.
Julie’s first reaction was to quit and find a job as a lighthouse keeper. Instead, this is what she did, and what you should do if you’re ever caught in a similar predicament.
Admit your mistake
The first step to moving past a mistake is to admit to it – and to apologize for it. Right away. the longer you wait to fess up, the harder it will be to fix it. In Julie’s case, the only thing to do was to go straight to her boss and apologize in person, simply and without pretense.
Whenever you apologize for a mistake, honesty is always the only policy. If you forgot to do something, tell your boss that you just straight up blanked out on the task and—if you have a good reason—explain why that happened. If you tried to take on a task and it didn’t go well, you shouldn’t have much to fear if you gave it your best effort. But don’t let big mistakes get bigger by pretending nothing happened.
And don’t forget to apologize to everyone else affected by your mistake. What you did may not be personal, but taking full responsibility and giving an earnest apology shows that you care about the goals and efforts of the people you work with.
Own your mistake
It may seem counterintuitive when you’re feeling bruised or embarrassed, but don’t avoid people. This will only keep your mistake in the spotlight. Stay engaged. Show that the mistake is not all you are. Be open, be accountable, and show that you are learning from your error.
And accept the consequences. You may lose trust. You may get a write-up in your HR file. (Julie certainly did.) The important thing is to accept the fallout without complaining. And be aware that people will be watching you for a while to come.
Make sure you understand how and why your mistake happened and how you can prevent it from happening in the future. Use it as an opportunity to learn and create new behavior patterns.
Fix your mistake
Do what it takes to rectify your mistake. Come up with multiple fixes for your mistake and pick the one you think is best. Have answers prepared for the questions your boss might ask. Give your boss your pick for the best solution, but have the other options fresh in your mind just in case. Even though you messed up, you can show your boss that you know how to fix it.
Sometimes the damage is serious and can’t be completely fixed, and if that’s the case, all you can do is try your very best to repair whatever you can to the best of your ability. That shows integrity. It’s the professional approach to a difficult problem.
Finally, you need to forgive yourself. Only then can you truly move past your error. Life is full of learning experiences and if you aren’t making mistakes, you’re not living!
Make a promise to yourself to not bring your mistake up over and over again. It’s been apologized for, owned, paid for, and your lesson’s been learned: it’s time to forget it and move on. And if someone else brings it up, make a joke about it. Like Julie: “Oh, that email thing? It was a great way to learn that’s there’s a really big difference between the ‘Reply’ and ‘Forward’ buttons.”
Seriously: everybody makes mistakes. You’re forgiven.