5 Quick Steps For Managing Work Mistakes

A simple acronym to help you learn and move forward in your career.

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Amy Martinez_bio pic.jpg
Amy Martinez
At work, our decisions and actions are measured constantly. Yet, the context, demands, and expectations placed on us are ever-changing and often unclear. It's impossible to be right all the time, and you'll accumulate a full catalog of mistakes over a long career.

Messing up could have big-time, far-reaching consequences for your business or just embarrass you mildly. Being resilient allows you to face your mistakes in the moment effectively and find a way to rebound afterward. One of the key things you can do to build resiliency is trust yourself more—not less—in the face of mistakes.

Looking back and second guessing your decisions is the enemy of resiliency and trusting yourself. For the more introverted among us, second guessing plays out in our minds, as we think about the situation repeatedly. We chew on each issue or interaction or decision point, and are unable to let go. If you're an extrovert, second guessing will involve other people. We debrief, analyze, or obsess about the situation to a point where everyone we know can draw the org chart, articulate each player's actions, and offer an opinion.

But you're burning precious mental energy pondering and reliving every aspect of where you went wrong. And that energy is required for you to re-orient yourself toward the present and away from the past. You need energy to believe in yourself again, to refocus, and to regain your sense of purpose. And, if you're not careful, you'll get stuck in a loop of self doubt, which will undermine your motivation and effectiveness in the face of future challenges.

So how exactly do you go about moving on from a mistake? How do you restore belief in yourself? And how can you face your manager or co-workers who have been disappointed, angered, or harmed? How do you muster the courage to face your direct reports when you've made a decision that didn't go as planned and they paid the price?

There's no simple answer; however, these five elements can help restore others' faith in you, as well as your faith in yourself:

F. Forgive yourself first. If you don't begin here, you'll tie up mental energy warring with yourself instead of taking steps to get back on track with others. At the heart of all forgiveness lies a healthy dose of compassion. Turn your compassion inward and silence those negative and judging voices in your head.

A. Acknowledge your mistakes, missteps, or failures with the people you have burdened, wronged, or hurt. And don't use "hint communication"—be bold and own up to your role in the situation.

I. Impart your desire to rebuild and recover what may have been harmed or lost to the people you've disappointed. If you've acknowledged the actions that initially got you into the mess, then the next step is to let people know what you're doing to rectify or mitigate the situation, or what you would be willing to do to set things right. When you're open about your efforts, you reaffirm your accountability, allowing others to feel like they might trust you again.

T. Trust yourself to follow through on ways to move forward; assume you can and will. Ask for the trust of others, too. You may not get it right away, so be prepared to fuel your motivation by trusting yourself until you've earned it from others over time.

H. Harvest what you learn. How has your mistake—and what you've learned from it—made you stronger and more effective in your role? What will you try to do differently? What still works? Until you take time to integrate those lessons at a deep level, you may be prone to repeating similar mistakes.

Making mistakes is unavoidable. What you do after a mistake tells you more about how you'll handle (and possibly sidestep) the next one than any other factor. The next time you flub something at work, engage in appropriate self reflection, but don't relive it over and over.

Bottom line: Get out of the past long enough to forgive yourself in the present, so that you can trust yourself in the future.

Amy Martinez is a senior faculty member with the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of leadership education.