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Made A Mistake? How to Recover Quickly

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We all make mistakes. As much as we wish they didn’t happen, they do. And that pit in your stomach won’t go away until you turn the situation around. The key to recovery: Demonstrate confidence and credibility. Here’s how.

1. Take a moment to analyze why this happened. Ask yourself, Was your action (or inaction) actually a mistake? Sometimes the situation is due to a misunderstanding or lack of communication between both parties, or even a difference in opinion or morals. There may be office politics to blame—for instance, is a more senior professional trying to exert power over younger employees to make them think they did something wrong? Be careful not to fall into the trap of wanting to be liked and submit to false allegations.

If you made a true mistake, try to fight the urge to immediately remedy the problem. Pausing will give you time to craft a strategy that will help you recover properly. This time might include seeking advice from peers or mentors, thinking about what to say, as well as where and how to say it:

  • WHERE: Consider having a conversation with the offended party in a neutral location (e.g., conference room) rather than their office. A neutral setting helps both parties to be on equal footing and averts an automatic shift of power to the other person.
  • HOW: As evident from the first point, do it in-person. Dealing with the issue in-person shows courage. Show the other person you are in control by standing tall, speaking clearly and making direct eye contact.
  • WHAT: What you say speaks most to your credibility. First, admit to the mistake. Do not try to claim it was the fault of someone else.

2. Apologize, but only once. Studies have shown that women, especially, tend to apologize too much (and too often). Saying “sorry” multiple times does not help to rectify the situation, it just undermines your authority.

3. Be solution-oriented. After you have apologized (once), discuss your action plan to resolve the problem. Demonstrate that you have learned from the experience and will approach things differently next time. Give your manager two or three options on how to proceed to help them to feel more in control of the situation.

4. Ask for feedback. This shows that you accept blame, and are invested in your personal growth and the success of the organization.

Recovering from a mistake is not easy and can be (initially) very uncomfortable. Do it right and you will feel empowered at the end. Think of making a mistake as an opportunity to learn and prove your worth. Remember, it is not what you do but how you recover that matters most to the integrity of your career.

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