Making mistakes at work can not only be embarrassing, but can affect your professional reputation. Because of this, when you make a mistake at work it’s important to act quickly and professionally. One important thing to remember is that you need to own up to your mistake verbally, an email is not the way to go.
Just understand that mistakes happen and most of the time, how you handle the mistake can salvage or even redeem the situation.
Steps to apologizing in a professional setting:
1. If you need to panic and vent - pick a trusted person whom you know has always been calm and logical. I.e. I would suggest your always calm and experienced dad, instead of your hyperventilating, emotional drama-queen friend Jen. Once you’ve spilled, breathe. You need to relax in order to correctly asses and take care of the situation. Depending on the severity, take a quick walk watch a movie to get your mind off it, or sleep over it. Giving time always helps you see things clearly.
2. Once you’ve composed yourself and given some space, it’s time to face the music. The best way to do it is face-to-face. The second best way is by phone. You can email your apology as a follow up of what was said. Texting is never appropriate.
3. Don’t try to shift the blame or make excuses. Yes you can explain why it happened but inevitably emphasize that you accept that it was your responsibility. Profusely apologize and accept whatever hailstorm of verbal fury or silent but deadly laser-sharp stare you will get. It happens. You’re an adult and you can handle it.
4. As soon as the initial anger is over, explain the steps you’re taking to fix the problem. Be genuine and go the extra mile. Trust me, having a viable solution that will mitigate the situation is great way to show your maturity and problem-solving skills.
5. How will you fix the problem? Be proactive and find a solution, even if you have to ask for help. Giving up, continuing to grovel or just walking away doesn’t help the situation and will make the mistake even worse. Even when it’s uncomfortable you need to own up and make it right to ensure that your colleagues or clients can depend on you in the future.
6. If your mistake affects a client or a third party, the first person you need to approach is your direct supervisor or your boss. Your boss may know the client and have advice on the best way to approach him or her. Different clients have different needs and getting as much information as possible up front will make your apology process easier for everyone.
Making mistakes is a part of work and life. The important thing is to own up, apologize and do what you can to fix the mistake. Handled well, making mistakes actually can put you in a good light - you’d be known as the person who keeps her cool when things go wrong. And whom do you think your boss or clients will want to rely on moving forward? Definitely the person who’s proven to be able to handle things well, good and bad.