Admitting a mistake at work is one of those things that is easier said than done. No one likes making mistakes and admitting to them may make us feel worse, as it may result in negative consequences. However, the reality is that we are all human and mistaken do happen. How would we learn otherwise?
Ok, I made a mistake, what do I do now?
We have all been there. The first thing that comes to mind is ‘they might not find out’. Well, they always do. Actions have consequences and the likelihood is that your manager will find out soon enough. Hiding it will only make things worse and you could find yourself entering a vicious cycle of mistakes and lies, which will only drag you down further. Owning up to a mistake rather than waiting for someone to find out shows you have courage and integrity, which your manager is likely to look favourably upon. Besides, the consequences could be a worse if you do not come clean, or even worse, try to cover it up or blame someone else.
Now I know honesty is the way forward, how do I deliver the message?
Sometimes the way you deliver a message is more important than the message itself, so think carefully about what you say and how you say it. Here are a few important tips:
Do not delay the conversation: It is tempting to delay the conversation in the hope that as time passes the problem will be forgotten, but remember that the sooner you raise it and discuss courses of action, the sooner the problem will be solved. This is especially true in cases where time is of the essence as delays could make things worse. There will always be an excuse to put it off but do not push these conversations back to later in the day or later in the week as once you have had that conversation then you will be able to move on.
Be direct and unambiguous: It is often difficult to admit a mistake so very often we try to avoid raising it by covering it in lots of additional and often meaningless information, downplaying its importance, or using terminology which will do nothing but confuse the listener. However, do not underestimate your manager, more often than not they will see through these attempts. Bad news is best delivered clearly and concisely. Do you really want to go around the houses, spending 30 minutes explaining that you made a mistake?
Assess the mistake: Always make sure you have done your homework before you deliver the message. If your manager is not already upset by the mistake then telling them that you have no idea what went wrong certainly will not help. Assessing the root cause and the potential impact is critical. It will put you in a much better position to deliver the bad news, but will also give your manager confidence that you can learn from this.
Suggest a solution: Managers don’t like hearing about problems, they like hearing about solutions, so having thought of one already, will significantly help your case and the bad news will be received much more favourably. Even if there is not a viable solution right now, suggesting potential courses of action, albeit imperfect at this point, or giving your manager the comfort that you/someone else is working on one, shows that you have taken the initiative to try to solve the problem yourself. You may have made a mistake but knowing how to fix it is key.
The bottom line
At the end of the day, mistakes do happen. However, the way you handle them shows what type of person you really are; one to hide in the face of challenge, one to point the finger to someone else, or one to step up and face the consequences. As bad as it may seem at the time, try to focus on the positives and the lessons that can be learnt from your mistake. At the end of the day if you admit to the mistake, then you are likely to feel a whole lot better than if you are caught up in a web of lies and deceit, no matter the outcome.