Taking Ownership of Professional Mistakes



Sending an email to the wrong person, missing a deadline, etc. – the possibilities are seemingly endless to the mistakes you can make at work. Making a mistake in the workplace can feel devastating since there’s so much at stake, from your reputation to actual money if your error has financial implications. There’s a silver lining to professional mistakes - how you handle your slipups is a major indicator to your superiors to the type of employee you are. Learn how to take ownership of professional mistakes in a way that improves your career:

  • Be Transparent About Your Responsibility

It can be tempting to try to cover up your mistake, but the ramifications will be much worse if you’re dishonest on top of it. Inform your boss about what has happened as soon as possible. Stick to the facts and hold yourself accountable without making excuses, no matter how valid. Hearing excuses can further frustrate your boss in an already negative situation and question your abilities. For example, if you blame a slip-up on being overwhelmed, your boss could take that as a sign that you can’t handle stress.  Simply admit your mistake, apologize and get ready to deal with the ramifications.

  • Amend the Situation

Once you admit to your responsibility in the mistake, the next step to taking ownership is to do whatever it takes to rectify the situation. Fixing the situation will likely vary depending on the specific nature of the mistake and its effects. This is the perfect time to show your critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Tell your boss exactly what you will do the repair the situation at hand, as well as what steps you will be taking in the immediate future to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Remember, bosses are typically most concerned that their employees take mistakes seriously and won’t repeat the behavior, so alleviate those concerns the best you can.

  • Ask for Perspective

When the dust has settled and your mistake and any consequences are handled, you may understandably be concerned about how it may impact your reputation and career. Ruminating over the mistake will give you unnecessary anxiety, so discussing the situation with a third party may help you be realistic about the outcome. Talk to a trusted mentor and ask how he or she handled professional mistakes in the past. Getting the perspective of someone more experienced than you (who has likely made his or her fair share of mistakes throughout the years) can help you feel better and know you’re not alone.

  • Find the Positive Aspects

Taking ownership of professional mistakes in an effective manner ideally involves learning and ultimately becoming a better worker. Once the logistics have been handled, set aside some time to objectively brainstorm about what lead to you making the mistake, and what you can do to improve your performance at work. For example, if you completely spaced and missed a major deadline, outline solutions to improve your challenges with time management and organization. Focusing on solutions is empowering because it gives you back some of the control you lost initially after a mistake.

  • Move Forward

Don’t let an error at work question your confidence in yourself. Self-improvement can’t occur if you have negative self-talk. All of your hard work doesn’t negate your skills and accomplishments that you’ve achieved. As time passes, your mistake will be seem less consequential to others, but dwelling on it and being afraid of repeating it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, keep looking toward the future and set new professional goals to work toward.

Professional mistakes may feel like the end of your career at the time, but even the most successful and confident CEOs have made a blunder in their time. Approach the aftermath with strength and strategy and you can turn a mistake into a learning experience and ultimately better your career development. 

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