Admitting Mistakes the Right Way

Are you admitting mistakes the right way? We’ve all made mistakes at work. We’ve experienced that moment of panic when you realize you messed up. Hot face, racing heart, pit in your stomach. Yeah, it isn’t fun.

No one likes to mess up or fail, yet we all do it fairly regularly.

The important question is: How do you react when you make a mistake?

Do you own up to your mistakes, or do you disown them?

A fundamental difference between successful and struggling leaders is the ability to recognize a mistake and take responsibility for it.

It’s OK to be wrong. You’re not perfect. This is real life, not the movies. 

Making mistakes leads to growth. They teach you what not to do next time. You develop better judgment by making mistakes. They motivate you to do better. And they teach you to have compassion for yourself and others when things go wrong.

While you don’t usually get a “do over,” you can create a second chance by handling your mistakes correctly. Here are my top tips for admitting mistakes the right way:

Tip #1: Take time to yourself to “calm down.”

It’s normal to be embarrassed when you make a mistake and nervous about admitting it. Before you do anything else, you need to process your emotions so you can take the next steps from a logical place. Talk to a trusted friend, get some fresh air, or write out what you’ll say. It will be much easier to address the mistake when you’re not upset. Tell yourself to calm down, and since it’s not someone else telling you to “calm down,” you’ll most likely accept the feedback. 😉

Tip #2: Own it.

You did it. You own it. When disclosing the fault, use the first person. For example, say, “I made a mistake” or “That was my decision.” Now is not the time to include others and phrase it like, “We made a mistake.” Trying to minimize your responsibility won’t get you any points or respect.

Tip #3: Don’t defend it.

No excuses. After owning up, avoid the temptation to defend the faulty decision. Don’t give explanations unless they are requested – and valid. Don’t deflect responsibility, trying to position yourself as a victim of poor information, upper management misguidance, or too much work. Play offense now, not defense.

Tip #4: Be constructive.

Ask yourself, “What did I learn?” “What can I do differently next time?” As a manager, you’d coach your team members using similar inquiries. How can you prevent this mistake in the future? Which one of your behaviors needs to change? And how will you do it?

Tip #5: Offer a solution.

Once you’ve owned up to your mistake and made any necessary apologies, you should explain any steps you’ve already taken to remedy the situation or offer a solution. To take it one step further, having a plan to prevent the mistake from happening again will show real leadership.

Remember, strong managers admit mistakes and don’t dwell on them. Once you’ve come clean, it’s time to move on.