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How to Save Face after Making Mistakes at Work


Oh, no! You’ve made a whopper of a mistake at work! Now what? How do I do damage control? Whether you’ve made the mistake with your supervisor or your colleague (or all of the above…), there are steps you can take to save face. And believe it or not, you may end up benefitting from that very mistake. Here’s your playbook in the face of a mistake at work:

  1. Don’t go into denial and put your head in the sand and pretend it didn’t happen. Acknowledging your mistake is the most important step.

  2. Go to who was affected by your mistake whether it was your boss or your co-worker.

  3. Then, acknowledge the mistake. Verbalize what happened and explain how it was a “screw up” or a mistake.

  4. Enter the conversation not only with an admission but also with an action plan. Come to the table with a proposed solution with a fix or a way to do it differently. During this conversation, do not come up with excuses. Don’t blame others. Own the mistake. Don’t go into great detail about why it happened. Don’t provide a long description. Don’t say the system is messed up or that the processes are messed up. Don’t say who else was involved in the mistake. As much as possible, you want to own the mistake solely.

  5. It will take time to repair damage to your reputation. Set up a regular check-in with your supervisor or colleague. Check-in periodically and ask for feedback about how you’re doing in your progress in repairing that mistake, as well as in getting better in general. By doing this, you’re sending the message that you’re owning it and that you’re taking responsibility for the incident AND that you possess integrity. This will be a positive reflection on your reputation. Your boss or colleague will know that you haven’t forgotten about it, that you care about it, and that you are actively working on a solution. All of this impacts your reputation in a positive way.


Mistakes Make You Look Better

If you approach your handling mistakes with confidence, you will be a more attractive person to both your supervisor and your colleagues. Absolute perfection is off-putting, and it also appears fake. People will give you credit for admitting your mistake, for being vulnerable, for being human. This makes you appear not only more human but also more attractive as a person to others. Owning your mistakes works to your benefit. When you show your flaws, it humanizes you to others, and they will trust you more.


Take chances even if you’re scared you’ll make a mistake. It’s through mistakes that we learn and grow and get better. Consider your mistakes opportunities to grow. In the end, your mistakes may lead to your greater success.


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