Turning Mistakes at Work Into Opportunities For Growth

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It’s happened to us all. You’ve badly bodged a project, forgotten your words during a presentation, gotten too drunk at the Christmas party, sent a personal email meant for your boyfriend to your manager, or gotten way too emotional with your boss – the list goes on. Most of the time when these things happen, there’s nothing else to do but wish you were around 3 millimetres tall, owned Harry Potters invisibility cloak, or simply gurn at your desk with a bright red face hoping no one noticed.

© pasukaru
© pasukaru

Of course, this immediate response to whatever has happened is normal, and there’s no getting away from some immediate ‘after disaster cringing’. However, you are a professional and responding this way really isn’t going to help you at all. So it’s time to put on your big girl pants, suck it up and think about how you can approach this mishap like an adult, once your cheeks have returned to a normal colour of course.

Accept It

You messed up – accept it. This is the hardest thing you will have to do, but it’s also the best thing you can do. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone. Don’t think your boss hasn’t once made a bad call at work, or your colleague has never walked out of the toilets with her skirt tucked in her knickers – no one is immune to mistakes because they are normal and we learn from them. It is OK to make mistakes, as long as you don’t dwell on them.

Deal With It

Now you have accepted your mistake, it’s time to deal with it. All you need to do is think about how you’re going to make the situation better. Reversing time, sticking your head in the sand and hiding in the toilets is not an option. Perhaps you spilt something down yourself, said something embarrassing in front of the boss, or leant over and your shirt button popped open revealing your ‘everything else is in the wash’ bra. Yeah you feel like an idiot, but will it help to walk around like it didn’t happen? Don’t get defensive with those making light of it, see the funny side yourself and laugh it off. Cringing and acting embarrassed will only draw more attention to what has happened.

If the issue is more serious and perhaps you missed a deadline by accident or sent an inappropriate email to the entire senior management team – own up after you have thought through ways to do better in the future. Apologise for your failings, don’t endlessly grovel and instead explain you are aware of what has happened and have X, Y and Z ways to ensure it won’t happen again in the future.

Shoulders Back, Head Up

In order to appropriately deal with the mistake, own up and explain how you can make it better, you must approach the entire issue with confidence. If you mumble an apology and pretty much tell your shoes what went wrong and how you’ll make it better, you’re only going to make the situation worse. Your ballet pumps just don’t care.

You have to be confident, hold your head up high, make eye contact, and accept what you have done, accept the consequences and most importantly, accept the fact that you not only deserve the opportunity to do better next time, but you have the ability to do better next time as well.

Move On

At this stage, you have owned up, apologised and confidently addressed what has happened. So what comes next? Moving on, that’s what. Once you get to this point it will be very easy to replay what has happened over and over again in your head, drown in your intense embarrassment and look to your best friends Mr. Ben and Sir. Jerry for comfort (and maybe even Lord Cadbury if it’s really bad) while you wallow in self pity. At this point you have to be brave and move on. Mistakes are horrible when they happen, but you will look back on them and be able to see how they helped you grow – as long as you learn to deal with them in a positive way.


“Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.” – Mary Tyler Moore

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