Follow these five steps to recover from a mistake at work.
First — nobody's perfect. Maybe you've made a mistake at work so egregious that you feel you'll never truly recover from it. Whether you missed a deadline that caused the company to lose money or you shared information about a co-worker that caused him or her to feel betrayed, a big mistake or failure at work can be frustrating to others and cause damage to your reputation.
And your reputation matters. In this digital age, insights about your work reputation appear on search engines and social media, which explains why 69 percent of employers research candidates online before making a hiring decision. Among the people you work with every day, you want to build a reputation that truly represents you and your capabilities. But how do you recover after you've let the company or your co-workers down? Here are five ways to repair your reputation and overcome mistakes you've made at work.
Take responsibility for your actions
Your reputation can be damaged by poor judgment or failure to deliver on a commitment. However, it can be repaired by taking ownership of your error and accepting accountability for the consequences. Nobody likes to work with someone who blames others for their mistakes. It's one thing to acknowledge that market conditions prevented your team from meeting its sales goal, despite a great plan and a strong effort by the team. It's another thing to blame your boss if you took on a project and didn't complete it. Everybody makes mistakes and sometimes fails at the tasks they were given. When you take responsibility for your shortcomings, you allow others to establish trust in you and set the stage for repairing your reputation.
“I'm sorry” can deliver a lot of weight when said in the right context. However, apologizing is not just about uttering those two words. You need to deliver your apology in a way that shows you possess genuine remorse; no “fauxpologies” or “I'm sorry if you feel that way … ” It's better to have a reputation for apologizing than for being unrepentant.
Help yourself after a work failure by expressing an attitude of apology, even if you don't really “feel” it or don't think the failure was entirely your fault. For example, if you were due to give a presentation to the executive leadership team but arrived late because your printer jammed or you got stuck in the elevator, still apologize and tell your manager you're sorry you didn't make it into the boardroom on time. When you show others you can apologize, even for the things that may not be fully under your control, you can more effectively recover from the mishap and save your reputation in the process.
Related: Damage Control: Have You Been a Fool at Work?
Do great work
Sometimes you make a mistake that has such negative implications that it may feel like you'll never recover. In this case, taking accountability and apologizing doesn't begin to scratch the surface of reputational repair. However, even if you're the in-house attorney who failed to do proper due diligence on a company acquisition, causing a deal to fall through, there is still hope.
Perhaps the only way to repair your reputation is by going the extra mile and doing your best work and more. To make restitution for previous mistakes, you'll need to look for opportunities to let your positive work outweigh the negatives from the past. For example, you can volunteer to lead a new initiative, offer to help your manager with a key project, and bring added value to the team in a multitude of ways that allow them to regain their trust in you.
Find a mentor
A mentor can be invaluable in helping you navigate the challenges of overcoming a failure at work. If you've lost the trust of a colleague or can't seem to earn your team's respect, a mentor can provide real-time coaching and guidance to help you rebuild your credibility. In addition, if your mentor happens to work in the same company, they can also help to talk up your strengths and remind others of the value you add.
Put the failure behind you
When you've done everything you can to rebuild your reputation after a serious misstep at work, eventually you'll have to put the past behind you. If you remain mired in regret over your prior actions, you'll miss out on opportunities to continue the good work that earned you a strong reputation in the first place. Some of the ways you can move on include showing a willingness to talk about your past mistakes without becoming overly emotional and reflecting on past errors with a healthy dose of humor.
Changing people's perceptions of you and your work doesn't happen overnight. In fact, not everyone you work with will be your cheerleader or possess the willingness to look beyond your mistakes. The key to repairing your reputation after you've created a problem or made one worse is using a variety of methods that will help others to see your potential for redemption. When you take ownership, apologize, and do your best work, you can look beyond your most recent failure and begin to patch back together your reputation at work.
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