The pressure to perform at a high level can often result in mistakes and inefficient habits. Learn from your mistakes and take ownership of them. Communicate in an open and honest manner. Ask for or provide help when needed and remember that every new mistake is also an opportunity for better performance.
Why a workplace mistake could be the best move you’ve made
Ah, the work blooper. Whether you’re an intern or the CEO, a self-orientated perfectionist or if you swear you triple-checked your email recipient, one day you WILL make a mistake. It’s an inevitable and unavoidable part of life.
For article research, I asked friends, colleagues and LinkedIn’ers if they’d be willing to reveal their most unforgettable career-clangers. The responses wove a fascinating (and hilarious) tapestry of goofs. A helpful reminder that we’re all human – it’s the quirks of our mental make up that truly makes us interesting – and that even the most painful slip-ups can be helpful…
Why do we make mistakes anyway?
From clean forgetting the attachment on an all-company email to accidentally forwarding a highly inappropriate spam video to your Chair of Trustees – rather than flagging it with your PR team as you’d intended – the workplace gaffe is cringingly familiar.
It’s safe to say most people have experienced the palpable gut-wrench of making an absolute clanger. So why do we make mistakes? Are we simply being careless or in a rush? Ignoring our intuitions and pushing ahead with an approach we know deep down will fail? Or is there more at play than personality and intelligence?
American journalist and author Joseph T. Hallinan thinks so. In his book ‘ Why We Make Mistakes ’ , he believes humans are pre-programmed to mess up because of our inbuilt ‘design flaws’. That it’s the way we think, see and remember – and forget – that leads us to make mistakes. By delving into psychology, neuroscience, and economics, he deduces that the same qualities that make us efficient can also make us prone to error.
These design flaws, like when our eyes play tricks on us, are all-too-relatable. ‘I once sent an email about how incompetent and what a pain in the a***e a client was – only to send it directly to him’ said one of my friends.
Not spotting a missing letter can also wreak havoc, as a teacher friend discovered. ‘My teaching assistant was responsible for the gardening club and needed to write an emergency flyer home to parents due to bad weather. She intended to ask them to wear wet-weather gear – wellies in particular. But, the note read something along the lines of. ‘Dear gardeners, please don’t forget to bring your willies to school tomorrow!’. It was my job to check – I missed it and the note went home. Thank goodness our parents are fairly good humoured!’.
Why is it good to mess up?
None of us are entirely flawless but we’re acclimatised to curated perfection in our virtual worlds. We share our successes and luminous achievements to our followers, but we rarely exhibit our failures when things haven’t gone so well.
Then again, messing up can feel like the end of the world. The immediate reaction is usually negative; panic, nausea, wild irrationality. As you simultaneously update your LinkedIn profile in readiness for a new-job search and WhatsApp your friends requesting an urgent wine-up to wallow in catharsis, you can feel like the worst (*add job title here) in the country.
Yet giving yourself permission to make mistakes could actually make you stronger. No matter how crushing they feel at the time, getting it wrong can be right in the long term. As Viv Groskop explains in her article for The Pool , ‘ the more we stumble the less likely we are to head towards a major fall’. Making a mistake allows you to pause and reflect on the decisions made and actions taken which caused the error. Essentially, you get clarity on what’s gone wrong and can take steps to put it right.
Post-mistake anxiety – the I never want to experience this embarrassment or worry ever again feeling – can be the driving force to do better next time. You may also push yourself in a way you wouldn’t if you’re used to playing it safe and striving for perfection.
Author Elizabeth Day’s inspiring podcast ‘ How To Fail With Elizabeth Day ’ celebrates the things that haven’t quite gone right. Every week, she asks her interviewee what they learned from their failures and how to do it better next time, – and succeed. In her article for The Guardian , she shares, ‘I realised that the biggest, most transformative moments of my life came through crisis or failure’. Crucially, she survived.
So, what can I learn from a mistake?
► Embed a valuable skill. When one senior designer first started out in publishing, he printed ‘10,000s of John Grisham audiobooks with the title misspelt on the spine. It was…quite a biggy’. Gulp. Yet, the one thing they’ve carried with them, apart from an innate fear of a legal thriller, is how crucial it is to double check anything that goes public. My friend who sent a disparaging email about a client TO the client? ‘I never wrote a single word about anyone on my work email ever again!’.
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The Ultimate Interview Guide
If you’re looking for interview tips, you’ve come to the right place. With decades of experience in guiding our candidates through interviews successfully, and helping them secure their dream job, we’ve compiled The Ultimate Interview Guide. By combining our collective experience, we’ve crafted the one guide you’ll need to get ahead and stand out amongst the other candidates rallying for the role you’re after. The Ultimate Interview Guide looks at every type of interview, each and every interview stage, what to expect, what questions to ask and more. Download the guide by clicking below today! The Ultimate Interview Guide.pdf Size: 74.5 MB 12 tips for video interview success These days there’s a good chance your next interview will be conducted via the magic of Zoom*, introducing a whole new world of things to worry about beforehand. Fortunately executive recruitment expert Jenny Hills is here with practical tips to get the best from the process. Read more >> *other videoconferencing solutions are, of course, terrifyingly available.
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How should managers react to mistakes at work?
Managers are responsible for reacting to and assisting employees with mistakes at work. Even in the most high-pressure situations, doing so with care is not only good for morale but will prevent similar mistakes in the future. How a manager reacts to mistakes at work can make all the difference between transformational leadership and losing otherwise great employees.
Great managers can also recognize when they themselves have made mistakes. Before you approach a team member, take a close look at yourself to see if you’re really worried about their work. If so, what do you think about their performance? Who is responsible for their work so far?
You may find that you’ve contributed to the environment, the process, or the miscommunication that made the mistake possible. Reflecting on this ahead of time will relieve everyone of playing the blame game and instead solve the problem from a fair and level-headed place.
When approaching an employee who has made a mistake, start by being curious about it. Ask questions about what happened and what their perspective is on the situation. Use active listening skills when speaking to team members, as it will let them know that you are paying attention.
They may fess up immediately. If they take the blame for something that wasn’t their fault, which is pretty common, address that. If they don’t admit to making a mistake, approach the situation with care and focus on the issue, not placing blame.
Give the team members the autonomy to figure it out on their own. Then, provide your feedback in a fair and balanced manner. Afterward, encourage them to learn from it and avoid repeating the same mistake.
When communicating with an employee who has made a mistake, in-person meetings are often best. However, many teams are now made up of contractors, gig workers, and freelancers who work remotely so a physical location is not always accessible. If that’s the case, lean on digital tools to illustrate the issue.
For example, reports and individual task assignment lists from project management tools. These can also be used to prevent future mistakes, as managers can easily use them to communicate the actions and behaviors expected of team members and improve the overall work management process.
There may be times when mistakes happen over and over again. If that’s the case, the employee may be engaging in a pattern of behavior that keeps them from performing at their best. Managers can step in and provide ideas for healthy habits that will prevent the same type of mistake from cropping up again.
For example, you can ask a marketing team member to overcome a common marketing mistake of missing a content publishing deadline by writing a to-do list every day. This will help them stay on top of their tasks while also motivating them to finish their work at the same time.
How to admit a mistake in a professional environment
You may end up in a situation in a professional environment where an apology is needed. And when it comes to making mistakes at work, honesty is the best policy. Certain actions can break trust, but an apology can help rebuild it.
It’s important to address the person you’re apologizing to by name, regardless of their status. Having an open conversation can help both of you understand the other person better, and it can prevent an insincere apology from happening.
If the mistake you made affected someone personally, it’s important to validate the feelings of the other person. Having the courage to admit that you’re sorry can make a huge difference in how people treat you.
Take responsibility for your actions and have a plan in place for how to make amends before you approach the appropriate person or people. Having a plan in place shows that you’re thinking about how to make things right. You may even want to read about examples of taking responsibility at work and model your behavior on whichever feels appropriate for the situation.