How to Own Up to Your Mistake at Work

Everyone makes mistakes, but it's crucial to handle them in a professional manner. Here's how to deal with a mistake at work.

portrait of Evan Thompson
by Evan Thompson

Published on May 5, 2022 · Updated on May 17, 2022

Edited by Jennifer Cuellar
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How to Own Up to Your Mistake at Work
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Angela Christian's stomach began to curl when she realized she had made a big mistake at work.

Christian, working in corporate finance at the time, accidentally wired $5,000 to a vendor — twice. It wasn't a good feeling. She started to sweat as she tried to figure out what to do.

But, in a matter of a few minutes, she managed to:

"The entire process was a lot easier than I had anticipated because I was upfront about what happened, I didn't have a bad attitude about it, and they could tell I was genuinely upset," said Christian, now a personal development and business coach.

Making a mistake is usually a terrible feeling, but there are ways to handle it without making things worse. Here's advice on how to deal with making a mistake at work.

Step 1: Keep Things in Perspective


The important thing to remember at this moment is that everyone makes mistakes.

Dina Cataldo, a certified professional coach, says most people lose confidence in their abilities when they make a mistake. Perfectionist thinkers are especially prone to this.

But making a mistake doesn't mean you're incapable or unprofessional. It just means there's room for improvement, Cataldo said.

Keep things in perspective, and try not to make the letdown feel any worse than it needs to be.

Step 2: Think of Ways to Fix the Problem


After coming to terms with making a mistake, you're now in a better position to fix the problem.

Whether it's your boss or another co-worker, whoever is affected will appreciate it if you come to them with a thought-out plan instead of just offering an apology.

Cataldo recommends asking yourself three questions to find possible solutions:

  1. What are the potential ramifications of the mistake?
  2. What are the potential solutions to the problem?
  3. How can I make sure this doesn't happen again?

Step 3: Own Up to Your Mistake


The hardest part of this will be admitting that you messed up, but Steps 1 and 2 should make it easier.

Own up to your mistake to whoever needs to know. Take full responsibility and explain what happened, even if shifting the blame to another person or using an excuse might be tempting — and sometimes justified.

An apology might be as simple as saying, "Hi. I'm sorry, I made a mistake. I'm working on correcting it ASAP."

Sam Shepler, CEO of Testimonial Hero, adds that it's best not to overdo the apology. Don't make excuses, don't try to over-explain it, and don't say sorry 500 times.

"Remember, people are so caught up in their own lives that they won't mind as much as you think," Shepler said.

Step 4: Offer a Solution


A good time to offer a solution to the mistake is after you apologize.

Biron Clark, the founder of Career Sidekick, says coming up with an action plan for solving the mistake will reflect well on you. Even if your manager doesn't choose one of the suggested remedies, they'll likely appreciate your initiative.

Most managers won't take it personally that you made a mistake. They just want it fixed as soon as possible.

Step 5: Learn From Your Mistake


Finally, you want to show that this mistake won't happen again.

Use what you learned from the question you asked yourself in Step 2 and present it to your manager.

A few ways to do this include:

Christian says most managers will recognize you're a good employee if you're willing to learn from your mistakes.

"Any time you approach a problem head-on with a genuine heart, it'll make the situation much easier to get through," she said.

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BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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