- Pin it
OK, you screwed up. Something’s gone horribly, horribly wrong, and it’s all your fault. And now, it’s time to pay the piper.
Maybe you lost your company’s big client. Maybe you forgot to do a critical part of that big project. Maybe you weren’t there for someone when they needed you, even when you said you would be. Whatever the situation, someone trusted you to do a job and you failed.
Now you’ve got to tell them.
The instinctive reaction to a situation like this is “duck and cover” — protect yourself by any means necessary. Depending on how badly you screwed us, it could mean the end of your job, your career, your relationship, your status, or your reputation.
“Mistakes were made.”
Most people will try to weasel out of their mistakes. There’s a whole language of “weasel-words” people deploy to defer attention away from themselves, to downplay the seriousness of the situation, or even to deny anything went wrong at all.
The all-time universal champs at weaseling are government officials, and their all-time favorite way to weasel is the non-admission of guilt embodied by the phrase “mistakes were made”. It’s what Nixon said about Watergate, it’s what Reagan said about the Iron-Contra affair, it’s what Hillary Clinton said about Whitewater, it’s what Alberto Gonzalez said about his firing of federal prosecutors.
Mistakes were made, but not by me — that’s the implication. They just kind of… happened. Nothing to worry about, really, just mistakes, you know — they were made. Move along, nothing to see here.
“I made a mistake.”
The problem with dodging the bullet is that the bullet is still flying, and still needs to be dealt with — if you dodge it, then it will probably hit someone else. “Whew!” Except not; if you’ve pinned your reputation on your ability to do the job, whatever the job, right, then the failure is still going to stick to you. Plus, you’ll have lost the trust of the people around you, especially the ones who ended up paying for your mistakes, whether by taking the blame or cleaning up the mess. Or, in the worst case, you’ll have distracted enough attention that the mess doesn’t get cleaned up at all.
On the other hand, admitting your fault puts you one step closer to dealing with it, and can often be the first step towards a successful turn-around. At the least, though, it shows that you’re someone with integrity and courage, even in the face of disastrous consequences.
Here are a few pointers about ‘fessing up and dealing with your mistakes:
- See things from someone else’s perspective: If you’ve made a promise and failed to keep it, put yourself in the other party’s shoes and see how things look from there. How would you feel? What would your response be if you were them? And what action would satisfy you?
- Be sympathetic: Realize that your mistakes might affect many more people than just you, and recognize the pain you’ve caused. A little bit of sympathy can well be the opening you need to set things right.
- Take responsibility: Don’t try to weasel out of it, and don’t look around wildly for someone else to blame. Even if your failure came about because someone let you down, you’re ultimately responsible for the projects under your authority.
- Accept the consequences: It’s hard, I know, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet and take your lumps. Few actions come without any consequences at all; be prepared to embrace whatever befalls you as a result of the mistakes you’ve made.
- Have a plan: Taking responsibility means being prepared to clean up the mess, which means you need a plan. You should have a clear idea of what went wrong and how you can fix it — and how you can avoid it in the future.
- Be sincere: Don’t pretend to feel sympathy or act phony so that the other person can see how deeply you care. Don’t play the martyr. Show honest emotion — the first step to rebuilding the trust lost.
- Apologize. No, really. A lot of people go to great lengths to make up for their mistakes — or to hide them — when a simple “I’m sorry” would do the job, and cause a lot fewer hard feelings.
None of these tips will prevent the worst from happening — you may still lose your job, your client, your partner, or your friendship. But you’ll have done so with dignity, instead of disgrace — allowing you to walk away with your head held high.
And by taking full responsibility for your mistakes and acting appropriately, you’ll have set yourself on a path to failing successfully — to learning what there is to learn and moving forward with grace and purpose.
If you’ve ever witnessed someone make a mistake and then give excuses about why it wasn’t his or her fault, you know how pathetic this behavior is. On the flip side, isn’t it refreshing when a person owns up to failure? As someone who specializes in human behavior, Tim Eisenhauer, HR expert and president of Axero Solutions has some tips to share on the subject. Here’s what he says you need to do when you screw up, at least if you want to save face and maybe even garner some respect out of the experience.
1. Own it.
Take responsibility for whatever you did and understand the possible impact. If you don’t show your mistake, how will it get corrected? Of course, you’d rather figure it out on your own, but no one is right all the time. So, give yourself room to be wrong, and don’t defend yourself in hindsight. Defensiveness is your number one enemy.
2. Be proactive about solutions.
How did the mistake happen? Pinpoint where you went wrong. Then ask yourself what you can do to fix the problem. Can you fix it on your own or do you need someone’s help? Don’t try to sweep it under the rug–that could backfire. Who should you tell? A coworker, your manager, HR?
3. Communicate the mistake to those affected or to those who can help.
Learn to communicate in ways that appeal to people’s humanity. Show your human side and be sincere. Show that you care to fix it. Be honest about your struggles and let others surprise you with their empathy and good will.
4. Expect to make public mistakes.
Use them to cure yourself and your whole company of being defensive. Of course, do whatever you can to not repeat a failure.
5. Trust people to help you.
Taking responsibility means sacrificing your pride, not pumping your ego. It also means showing trust in people to help you. What if everyone in your company owned up to their mistakes and wanted to fix what they had done? “Imagine if [people] could trust everyone else to have their back when things don’t go according to plan,” he says.
Would you rather die than admit you made a mistake?
It’s midnight and three hours have passed but you’re still tossing and turning on your bed. You know your alarm will ring in a few hours, but you don’t want it to. The thought of admitting, in front of your team, that you made a wrong decision is making you weak in the knees. The issue is too big so they’re bound to notice even if you hide it from them. Mistakes are part of our lives, no matter how trivial or challenging it is. The act of admitting your mistakes takes more than just valor and guts. Admitting your mistakes is your key to maturing as a leader. Why? Because it is a man’s natural tendency to point fingers or try to forget what happened. The maturity of a leader is a strong indicator of his ability to lead a team and the challenges that go with it. It also dictates your ability to succeed in client relationships and your personal life.
Swallowing the Bitter Pill of Your Mistakes Helps You Grow as a Leader.
Admitting Your Mistakes Strengthens Your Integrity
Owning up to your misjudgment builds integrity — your inner truth compass to doing good — even if no one is looking.
People’s inability to admit mistakes is sometimes born out of a defensive measure brought about by anxiety. Because of fear, some people will always be inclined to seek a haven in deception, to preserve their ego.
Gain Respect of Your Boss and Team
Due to the competitive nature of office environments, sometimes the fear of making one crucial mistake is overwhelming. You might get fired, the funding for your project might get pulled out, or your fat 30% raise might be cut in half. In any case, you have a lot to lose, not to mention the admiration of your boss and team.
In the long run, however, the truth will come out. Whatever admiration and respect your co-workers had will be replaced by distrust. It’s better to admit your mistakes now, while you have a chance to make amends or at least minimize damage.
“To err is human, to forgive is divine,” this is a famous maxim by Alexander Pope. Let this maxim remind you that mistakes are part of life, and that admitting your mistakes is akin to accepting who you are. Don’t hate yourself for your lapse in judgment. It’s normal for you to feel ashamed of your mistakes, but don’t let it affect your life for years.
When You Admit Your Faults, You Accept Your Limitations.
How can you expect people to treat you fairly when you’re not being fair to yourself? When you admit to our own faults, you are also accepting your limitations.
Mistakes are not present in humanity just for the heck of it. The tumultuous process of growing as a leader is never complete without the act of admission. Learn to love it and do it as often as necessary until you develop a thick skin that doesn’t shy from mistakes.
The Power of Admitting A Mistake
Confucius said, “If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.” Yet, many times when a mistake is made, people try to pretend that it did not happen. They attempt to justify the wrong position or try to cover it up, which leads to additional mistakes. This situation reminds me of another quote — “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
“If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.” -Confucius
Quite often, more damage is done to credibility, relationships, trust and integrity by the actions taken after the original mistake. This is true in personal relationships and especially true when a leader makes a mistake. How many times have we seen high-profile people get prosecuted, not for the original crime, but for the attempt to cover it up by lying?
Of course there is another choice when a mistake is made—admit it, learn from it, correct it and apologize to those that were adversely affected. There is power in properly admitting a mistake.
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” -Albert Einstein
Why Admit a Mistake?
Rather than try to ignore or cover up a mistake, there can be many personal and organizational advantages to properly admitting a mistake.
“When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
- Averts the need to continue to defend a difficult or incorrect position.
- Increases leadership credibility.
- Avoids additional mistakes trying to cover up or “adjust” for the original mistake.
- Reduces personal stress and tension.
- Provides a “reset” from others in both personal and professional relationships.
- If you take responsibility for a mistake on-behalf of others who participated, it builds loyalty.
“Admitting and correcting mistakes does not make you look weak; it actually makes you look stronger.” –Bruce Rhoades
- Provides a learning situation for you and others.
- Builds trust—others see that you are human, honest and truthful.
- Allows quick correction, which saves time and resources.
- Gives others a chance to express views and provide new information.
- Shows others that they are valued and that their input counts, which builds collaboration.
- Increases the organization’s ability to try new things then quickly stop those that do not work, which helps establish an innovative culture.
- Sets the tone for risk-taking, open communication and makes you more approachable.
- Provides concrete examples to reinforce critical aspects of culture: decisiveness, truthfulness, openness, integrity and quick correction.
- Removes the “elephant-in-the-room” situation where everyone knows about the mistake, but no one talks about it.
- Helps offset the bad feelings for those that may have wasted their time.
- Decreases “pocket-vetoes” when others see the mistake, do not confront it, but simply do not implement.
“As a leader it is a mistake to think that you need to have all the right answers all the time.” – Bruce Rhoades
When Admitting Mistakes Does Not Have Power
There are situations when admitting a mistake does not have much benefit. In these circumstances, mistakes must still be acknowledged, but do not expect respect, increased credibility or any of the other benefits listed above.
- If you continually make and admit mistakes, you look reckless.
- If the mistake was made out of sheer ego or stubbornness.
- When it is the second, third or nth time you have made the same mistake.
- When it was caused by “ready, fire, aim” or knee-jerk reaction when other information should have been considered.
- If you try to justify it by “just following orders from above.”
- If was done by an angry, emotional reaction and everyone knows it.
These situations can still provide value as a learning experience, if only as an example of what not do.
“If you take responsibility for a mistake on-behalf of others who participated, it builds loyalty.” –Bruce Rhoades
How to Admit a Mistake
There are several principles to keep in mind to achieve the best outcome when admitting and correcting a mistake.
- Don’t blame others. Take responsibility. If someone else needs coaching, do it in private.
- Do not try to get others to admit the mistake on your behalf. When others are asked to do the “dirty work,” leadership credibility goes out the window.
- Stick to the facts and do not make it look like an excuse. Indicate what information was incorrect.
- This is not a time for cynical humor used to disguise an excuse or blame.
- Indicate what you and/or the organization should learn from the mistake and how not to repeat it.
- Ask for more input from others.
- Apologize to those who have wasted their time.
- If possible, state the new direction, or decision, then indicate who is accountable to implement.
- If there is not an immediate correction, provide the process and timeframe for correcting the mistake.
“Your best teacher is your last mistake.” –Ralph Nader
All of us make mistakes—it is part of learning and growing. The only people who do not make mistakes are the ones who never try anything new. As a leader it is also a mistake to think that you need to have all the right answers all the time. Trying to be right all the time is stressful, slows progress and causes procrastination. Leadership is about allowing others to use their talents, providing the proper culture and setting the direction.
Admitting and correcting mistakes does not make you look weak; it actually makes you look stronger. When you admit mistakes, you help establish a culture of open communication and a willingness to improve by demonstrating an attitude of, “Let’s learn from this.” The result builds organizational trust, provides an atmosphere for innovation and improves collaboration.
Remember, mistakes are almost never “secret”—most are visible, and the longer they go without correction, the more difficult and expensive it is to change—not to mention that the longer it continues, the worse the leader appears.
I once had someone tell me that the only real mistake is the one from which you learn nothing.
“The only real mistake is the one from which you learn nothing.”
All this has been my fault. I asked more of my men than should have been asked of them
– Robert E. Lee, after heavy Confederate losses at Pickett’s Charge
O NE OF THE most widely respected commanders during the Civil War, Robert E. Lee admitted to being at fault during the serious casualties suffered by the Confederates at Gettysburg in his resignation letter to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Who would have thought that a man of his stature would admit his mistakes and take responsibility for what happened?
[bctt tweet=”Today, when so many leaders justify their wrongdoings – even in office settings – how can YOU be different?” via=”no”]
Do Leaders Who Admit Their Mistakes Gain More Respect?
Although a good number of managers are excellent at supervising people, there are a few who will rub their subordinates the wrong way. One of the most frustrating things leaders could do is try to hide their mistakes. But here’s the thing: employees KNOW you committed an error. They’re just keeping silent about it because they’re waiting on your next move.
There are two main reasons why many managers refuse to admit their gaffes.
One, they’re afraid of consequences. Once you admit mistakes at work, there’s no question that you’ll also need to face the outcome – no matter how bad it is. For some leaders, this can be a hard pill to swallow.
Second, they believe that apologizing for mistakes makes you look weak. This action usually leads to cover their tracks by blaming others or justifying wrong decisions, just to save face. In the end, employees under such managers lose trust and respect for them, leading to poor office morale.
Over time, these same managers may wonder why their subordinates are doing the same: validating incorrect choices, using unethical processes, or even taking credit for someone else’s work. This is all because they didn’t know how to admit mistakes and move beyond them. When employees hate their managers, they end up hating their work and becoming disengaged workers. According to one report, disengaged employees cost companies an estimated $319 billion to $398 billion a year.
[bctt tweet=”Admitting you’re wrong doesn’t make you any less than who you are. ” username=”bizmastersglobal”]
In fact, it’s the first step to correcting it. This practice also helps develop trust and respect in your subordinates. Managers who know WHEN to apologize for their slip-ups are not only admired, they become better individuals who are more accepting, open-minded, and compassionate.
Not bad qualities to have.
How To Admit Mistakes at Work Graciously
Managers aren’t the only ones who need pointers in confessing to their faults. If you properly master these gentle techniques, it’ll be easier for you to accept the consequences of your actions without feeling like you lost your pride.
- Do It Personally
It can be so easy to print out an excuse and tack on the bulletin board when you’ve made a huge gaffe. Some managers even have representatives apologize on their behalf. But these only show that you’re afraid and are not ready to own up to your errors. Whether you’ve hurt a coworker or made a wrong decision on a project, admit your mistake in person. If it’s really not possible, use a phone or utilize videochat services.
- Choose Your Words
It’s amazing what words can do. In this case, use the power of select vocabulary to make admitting you’re errors easy for both you and the offended party. Other things you could say besides “sorry” is “thank you” or “I apologize”. For example: “I apologize for raising my voice the other day”, or “Thank you for pointing that out just now. That was my mistake”.
However, don’t forget to acknowledge instances when a “sorry” is absolutely necessary, like when you’ve hurt someone’s feelings. Always be sincere in admitting mistakes and taking responsibility.
- Be Sincere and Sympathize
Don’t just churn out empty words when you admit mistakes to your employees. Sometimes, other folks are also affected by the errors we made. In office scenarios for instance, failure to submit a report for a client may end up putting an entire team (not just the manager) at risk. When you ask for forgiveness, let them know that you understand how scared they are of the outcome, too.
Example: “I know you’re scared that the client might pull out of this project because we failed to send the report on time. That was my mistake just now. But I’m currently working with him to amend this error, and I just want to thank you all for staying with me on this.”
Assuring them that you have a grip on matters will not only make them feel confident to have you as their leader, it will show you strong and capable you are when things don’t work out as planned.
- Have a Plan of Action
Show that you mean your apology by having a plan of action ready. This is what separates good leaders from great ones. Excellent managers can think quickly on their feet on how to best approach a problem. If you’re not sure what to do yet, give yourself the time you need to figure out the best solution.
Here’s another example based on the previous scenario: “I am currently working on a solution to fix this issue as soon as possible, and I’m confident that we could finish this assignment despite this setback.”
- Ask for Help (when applicable)
Sometimes, in order to correct mistakes and move beyond them, two heads are better than one. It’s okay to ask help from employees, especially if you’re out of ideas. This approach benefits you in two ways: one, you get to fix a problem faster; second, you boost your workers’ confidence in themselves.
Employees who feel that their skills and talents are important for the good of the company are more receptive to their managers.
Admit Mistakes and Move Beyond Them
Think about it: humans commit errors all the time. Just because you’re a leader doesn’t mean you need to be flawless to be respected. Instead, aim to have a listening ear, a forgiving nature, and an understanding heart. Learn from your employees just as much as they learn from you. If you’ve had people leave due to your refusal to admit fault, it’s never too late to change for the better.
Like General Robert E. Lee, admitting you have been wrong doesn’t mean you’re less than capable – in fact, it only shows that you’re brave enough to face whatever’s coming your way.
Emilija Manevska/Getty Images
As they say, everyone makes mistakes. In many situations, you can correct your error or just forget about it and move on. Making a mistake at work, however, is more serious. It can have a dire effect on your employer. It may, for example, endanger a relationship with a client, cause a legal problem, or put people’s health or safety at risk. Repercussions will ultimately trickle down to you. Simply correcting your error and moving on may not be an option. When you make a mistake at work, your career may depend on what you do next. Here are the steps you can take:
Admit Your Mistake
As soon as you discover that something went awry, immediately tell your boss. The only exception is, of course, if you make an insignificant error that will not affect anyone or if you can fix it before it does. Otherwise, don’t try to hide your mistake. If you do that, you can end up looking a lot worse, and others could even accuse you of a coverup. Being upfront about it will demonstrate professionalism, a trait most employers greatly value.
Present Your Boss With a Plan to Correct the Error
You will need to come up with a plan to rectify your mistake and present it to your boss. Hopefully, you will be able to put something together before you first approach her, but don’t waste time if you can’t. Reassure her that you are working on a solution.
Then, once you know what you need to do, present it. Be very clear about what you think you should do and what you expect the results to be. Tell your boss how long it will take to implement and about any associated costs. Make sure to have a “Plan B” ready, in case your boss shoots down “Plan A.” While making a mistake is never a good thing, don’t miss the opportunity to demonstrate your problem-solving skills.
Don’t Point Fingers at Anyone Else
In a team-oriented environment, there is a good chance other people were also responsible for the error. While people are typically thrilled to take credit for successes, they are reluctant to own mistakes. If you can, get everyone to approach your boss together to alert her that something has gone wrong.
Unfortunately, you might not be able to make that happen. There are going to be some people who say “it’s not my fault.” It won’t help you to point fingers at others, even if they do share responsibility for the mistake. In the end, hopefully, each person will be held accountable for his or her own actions.
Apologize, but Don’t Beat Yourself Up
There’s a big difference between taking responsibility and beating yourself up. Admit your mistake but don’t berate yourself for making it, especially in public. If you keep calling attention to your error, that is what will stick in people’s minds.
You want your boss to focus on your actions after you made the mistake, not on the fact that it happened in the first place. Be careful about tooting your own horn, though. Bragging about how you fixed things will not only call attention to your original blunder, it could raise suspicions that you made a mistake so you could swoop in to save the day.
If Possible, Correct the Mistake on Your Own Time
If you are exempt from earning overtime pay, get to work early, stay late and spend your lunch hour at your desk for as long as it takes to correct your mistake. This won’t be possible if you are a non-exempt worker since your boss will have to pay you overtime—1 1/2 times your regular hourly wage—for each hour you work over 40 hours per week. You certainly don’t want to stir up more trouble by causing him to violate that requirement. Get your boss’s permission if you have to work longer hours.
One of the most difficult realities to accept is our own imperfection. Usually, it is easier for humans to pinpoint the flaws of others, but we are always on the defensive mode whenever we hear others talk about ours.
Nevertheless, in order for us to be able to maintain good relationships, we have to be humble enough to admit that we are not always right. We need to willingly apologize for our mistakes and be corrected for them.
If you are having a hard time realizing and accepting your own mistakes, then you can apply these ways:
1. Understand that admitting your faults and apologizing for them are not signs of weakness.
Most of the times, the reason why it is hard for people to own up to their mistakes is that they do not want to be seen negatively. Committing errors is usually associated with stupidity, irresponsibility, or sometimes, being a ‘bad’ person. They are afraid that they will not be trusted anymore.
However, the truth is that it takes a strong person with integrity to admit a mistake. Those who are quick to realize, admit, and apologize for their slips are more likely to gain the respect of others.
2. Do not point a finger to others.
They say that whenever you point a finger towards someone, your four other fingers are actually pointing to you. This means that you have no right to judge another person for whatever flaw s/he has because you might actually have more flaws than him/her.
Before you complain or gossip against anyone, you need to check yourself first. Could you say that you are better than that person? If you think so, then how sure are you that you have done lesser mistakes than him/her?
3. Be open-minded.
Closed-mindedness can stop you from seeing your faults because it makes you think that all you believe in are right—and anything outside your principles is wrong. The problem is this could lead you to be in conflict with others since not everyone shares the same perspectives with you. Here, your mistake could be insisting that you are the only one right, and others are wrong.
You need to be open to others’ opinions and beliefs as well. You do not have to accept them, but at least you can show respect and be willing to listen to their side. You need to acknowledge that others could be right too.
4. Evaluate how your actions/words would affect you if you were the receiver.
Another way to realize your mistakes is by evaluating your actions, words, or decisions. The best way to do this is by making yourself the receiver of those. For instance, if someone claims to be hurt by you, then you could put yourself in his/her shoes and feel the effect of your actions.
Before you could get a taste of your own medicine, be sensitive of how others would be affected by what you do or say. If you would not want it to be done or said to you, then do not do or say it to others.
5. Ask others to be honest with you in case they feel offended.
If there are people avoiding you and you have no idea why then it could be that you had hurt them unknowingly. We all have blind spots so sometimes we are not aware when we commit mistakes or offend people. Others could be resenting you already without your knowledge, and this will negatively affect your relationships.
Letting others know that you would appreciate it if they tell you whenever you have done something offensive is one effective way of being mindful of your mistakes. This will not only help you be aware of your faults, but this can save your relationships too.
6. Humbly listen when someone points out your error.
Whenever someone tells you your faults, do not be defensive immediately. It may seem embarrassing to be hearing others comment on your failures, but being too proud to listen to them is more shameful.
Whether you agree with what others point out about you or not, you must be courteous enough to hear them out. If you realize that what they have actually said is right, then humbly thank them, and apologize for those mistakes. If they have only misunderstood you, you should still thank them for voicing out what they think. Then, you can gently explain your side afterward.
7. Be thankful for constructive criticisms.
Do not be hurt or mad whenever people give you negative feedback. Instead of shunning them off, consider their comments as constructive criticisms. Evaluate whether these comments are true or not. If yes, then be humble enough to accept that you need to change.
If what you hear are hard to swallow because they are degrading or offensive, be thankful for them still and avoid resenting the people who said them. Use those criticisms as a motivation to improve yourself for the better.
8. Ask God to help you realize your mistakes and be humble to admit them.
On our own, admitting our mistakes could be difficult because of our pride. However, if we really want to be changed, then we need to embrace humility. Being humble starts with the acceptance that we are not always right.
Through prayer, you can ask God to help you evaluate yourself. Ask Him to point out the sins and mistakes in your heart that you are not aware of. In addition, ask Him to help you change yourself to avoid doing the same errors again.
Humility is the Key
If you want to be mindful of your mistakes, then you need to develop humility within yourself first. Without being humble, it would be hard for you to accept that you are capable of making mistakes and bad decisions too. Moreover, humility will save you from more mistakes in the future since with it comes wisdom from listening to the advice of others.
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“When we make a mistake we experience a cognitive dissonance, which is a form of mental discomfort and tension,” says Mary Hladio, a workplace expert and president of Ember Carriers leadership group.
She explains that the natural tendency is to cover up a mistake to prevent ourselves from tarnishing our reputations and losing credibility. “But this can be more damaging than taking your lumps by accepting responsibility, Hladio says.
The more open and honest you are about the matter, the higher the chance of resolving it quickly without getting into major trouble, she says.
David Parnell, a legal consultant, communication coach, and author, says that more often than not, it’s best to get out in front of any issues or aftershocks from a mistake. “Your superiors will usually find out anyway, so it’s certainly best if they hear about it from you,” he says.
Here’s how to tell your boss you’ve screwed up:
Take a quick step back and breathe.
Before you begin stressing about what’s going to happen next, or start visualizing yourself being fired, allow yourself time before jumping into action. “Even if the problem is a big one, being stressed or anxious impedes your ability to think clearly,” says Hladio.
Assess the damage.
Calculate the potential damage of your mistake before the conversation, suggests Skip Weisman, a leadership and workplace communication expert. “The more information you can bring regarding what happened and what the potential impact may be, the better.” When you fully assess what went wrong and the potential consequences, it’ll show your boss that you care and want to learn from the mistake.
Admit your mistake immediately.
It’s like pulling a Band-Aid off, Hladio says. It is painful in the beginning, but as soon as you get it over with, the healing can start. “Your boss may be angry and upset, but he or she will eventually cool down. The sooner you identify and admit the mistake the sooner you can start to fix the problem.”
“No buffering. No euphemism. No misdirection,” Parnell says. Let your boss know exactly what happened in plain speak. Talking around the problem will just annoy your boss even more.
Take responsibility with humility.
This means actively acknowledging your fault in the situation and not passively admitting that something bad simply happened.
Weisman suggests saying something like: “I missed the deadline for submitting the application on the part of our client by three hours because I misread the instructions and was unaware they required us to submit the application by 5 p.m. Eastern Time, and since we’re in Pacific Time, I thought we had three more hours.” And avoid saying something like: “Well, their deadline was on Eastern Time even though most of their clients are on Pacific Time like us, so the application was filed three hours late.”
“The former involves the person taking responsibility for misreading the instructions and not confirming the deadline time, whereas in the latter they are blaming the instructions and implying that the application was generically filed late without specifically saying they did it,” he explains.
Don’t throw others under the bus.
Blaming other people will only make you look petty, Hladio says. “Not taking full responsibility will only worsen the situation, and can lead others to distrust your abilities in the future.”