OK, you blew it. And as much as you’d like to be able to turn back the clock, it’s impossible. Your boss is probably going to find out pretty soon, and then ….
This is a test of your values and moral character.
Who do you want to be? The person who’s trying to maintain a facade that people know isn’t true, or someone who can make mistakes and still be professional? We all do dumb things, of course, the question is whether you own up to it. Following are some tips to own up to your mistakes at work.
There are three results of the mistake you made:
- The damage done by the act itself: Work may have to be re-done, relationships may have been damaged, money and time may have been lost.
- How others perceive you when they find out: You’re worried that they might view you as unreliable, inconsistent, unintelligent, uncaring. You might even lose your job.
- The long-term impact on your reputation: Will people trust you less? Will you lose that promotion a year from now?
Clearly, when you have an immediate chance to reduce the damage caused by your action, you should focus on that. The impact on peoples’ perception and your reputation will take time to develop, so at least don’t let the damage grow any larger than it needs to.
That means you need to own up to the fact that you made a mistake, quickly, and do extra work to rectify the situation. THIS is the biggest test of your moral character. Now. Within ten seconds of when you realized what you’ve done.
Then, after you have a little more time to think about the situation, look at your reputation in terms of the long-term impact more than the short-term. OK, you’re going to look foolish right now, but what really matters is what people are going to think about you a year from now. This will also give you a better perspective, to not over-estimate what you THINK peoples’ reactions are going to be.
Then, when you pull your courage together to talk to your boss:
- Make personal contact. A phone call is much better than e-mail, and in-person is much better than a phone call. You’ll be able to quickly adjust to any reactions you see, and it conveys your sense of responsibility and caring.
- Tell the whole story. The only thing worse than having an employee make a big mistake is finding out later that it’s even bigger than you thought. THAT’S what will get you fired.
- Be humble and take ownership. This isn’t the time to blame other people or circumstances. You made the mistake, and you’re going to work to rectify the situation.
- Convey what you’ve done to fix it, and what you plan to do. This shows that you’re doing the best you can, and have the best interests of your boss and the company at heart.
- Ask for help and advice. Your boss is responsible for what you do, so shouldn’t be shut out. They’ll want to make a contribution too, and as a result will have greater ownership for the entire situation.
Yes, I’ve blown it many times during my career. The memories are burned into my brain. But I hope that I’ve learned how to keep the respect of my bosses and co-workers by showing that I’m a professional and can live up to my mistakes.
by Carl Dierschow