What Not to Do When You Fuck Up at Work

What Not to Do When You Fuck Up at Work
Photo: fizkes, Shutterstock

We all make mistakes, but knowing how to actually get over them is a sorely underrated skill. We recently covered how to save your career after screwing up at work, but what about what you shouldn’t do right in the aftermath of your slip up? Especially when it comes to the workplace, what you do — and what you don’t do — after your a mistake can make or break how big a deal it is.

Don’t let a small slip up turn into something that you can’t stop playing over and over in your head all night. Here’s what not to do to make your mistake at work even worse, so that you can rectify the situation and move on with your life.

First: Don’t lose your cool

The quickest way to lose control of a mistake is to lose perspective.

No matter how it feels in the heat of the moment, chances are your mistake isn’t the end of the world. Sure, “end of the world” is relative. A mistake at work is going to look a little different depending on if you’re a PR rep, versus a delivery driver, versus a surgeon. (Although some work environments make sending an feel email like open heart surgery.)

Take a deep breath and think about the impact of this mistake, both in the short and long term. Things to consider, before you freak out accordingly:

  • How easily can this be fixed?
  • Who does this immediately impact? Customers, clients, team members?
  • Will this have a long-term impact, or are you feeling disproportionate panic in the moment?
  • Has anyone else made this mistake before (who can help you and be understanding)?
  • How does this screw-up stacks up against your job performance up to this point?

Another classic trick to gain crucial perspective is to ask yourself, How would you feel if a coworker had made this mistake instead of you? Put yourself in someone else’s shoes before you spiral.

Don’t go overboard with the apologies

The instinct to apologise is a good one. However, over-apologizing can do more harm than good. Instead, own mistakes through understanding, and turn your focus forward. Try to incorporate your plan for fixing the situation into your apology. Then, be ready to stop talking about it (even if you’re still obsessing internally). Think “solutions” over “sorry, sorry, sorry.”

Don’t try to hide the mistake

While over-apologizing can be annoying, going too far in the opposite direction is much worse. If you try to delay or prevent others from discovering your slip-up, you’re protecting your pride at the cost of the bigger picture. Don’t let your ego get in the way of resolving the issue as soon as possible.

Transparency is key. If you struggle to speak up about a mistake, you might need to learn how to ask for help at work when you need it.

Don’t keep making the same mistake

It sounds obvious, but the implication of “we all make mistakes” needs to be “…and so we all need to learn from them.” Don’t let the occasional screw-up become a pattern of behaviour.

The best way to deal with a mistake is to take action to prevent it from happening again. Use your stress from the mistake as a powerful motivator to be on top of your game going forward.

Don’t beat yourself up

The takeaway from all of this advice is to get out of your own head. It’s all too easy to hyper-fixate on our mistakes, but this thought pattern is what will keep you up at night. Try to practice self-compassion, channeling your energy away from obsessing over the problem and into finding a solution. Be proactive about not making this same mistake again, and then allow yourself to move on.

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