How to deal with a big blunder at work

21 years ago, the then US President, Bill Clinton, suffered a major blow to his career. This was when his infidelity with intern Monica Lewinsky came to light. However, a few years down the line, his efforts in human rights earned him the prestigious UN Citizen of the World award.

He didn’t skulk away into oblivion with his head cowed from shame. Hopefully, yours won’t be a monumental mistake like that. Maybe you did something that made you look totally clueless; like someone who had no idea what their job description was all about.

Or worse, yours was a costly mistake that damaged your company’s image and credibility and even lowered your normal earnings. For some professions—like healthcare, transport and aviation or the military—blunders by personnel may result in a threat to life or loss of it. That’s something one cannot take back. For the normal office work situations, most errors can be corrected and conflicts get resolved.

These mistakes should not happen; and if they do, they should not be repeated. In fact, any blunder that taints your company’s public image should push you to weigh your professionalism and credibility in handling even the tiniest responsibility. If you somehow evade being laid off, bouncing back from such mistakes will be no walk in the park; but here are 5 steps to help you recover your reputation.

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1.    You should feel awful for a while; then get over it

Depending on the magnitude of your blunder, messing up at work will in most cases not only affect you. Your colleagues, bosses and even clients may feel the brunt of it or get its ripple effect. It is natural for stress to set in. However, do not allow yourself to stay engulfed in frustrations for too long. When you feel like negative emotions are continuously building up as a result of your mistake, release your frustrations in the healthiest manner possible. Go for a run, pen you feelings in your diary or talk to someone who normally gives you social support.

2.    Be objective

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Maintaining and open mind when you’re upset with yourself is a tough thing. When you find that your emotional response to your blunder is overwhelming, take a deep breath and drive yourself to acknowledge you cannot turn back the hands of time. It is easier said than done of course. The emotional investment will skew your course of action in this situation and make you biased in your decision making.  First of all, find your weak spots. Was it an innocent mistake? Did the error happen because you hold particular beliefs that hinder you from clearly acknowledging other viewpoints? Do you find yourself routinely overreacting?  If you are a people pleaser, objectivity will be harder for you. However, do your best to consider the facts and circumstances that surrounded the blunder. Recognise your triggers. The self-awareness will guide you to do the opposite when a similar situation arises.

3.    Acknowledge the error

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Apologise swiftly to the necessary parties. Do not overdo it. An email like, “Hi Nancy, I made an error. It’s deeply regretted. I am working on a solution ASAP” is okay. There is no need for excuses, justifications or throwing someone else under the bus. Once you swallow your pride and own your mistake, you are stepping in the right direction. Actions have consequences. Confront your worst-case scenario, make peace with it and move on. Your mind may tend to exaggerate the consequences, but even the best employees get into trouble once in a while. Do not let one mistake take away your creativity and resourcefulness.

4.    Evaluate what you need to do differently

You will realise that there is always a better way to get things done. If you were multitasking beyond your capacity, learn to delegate for the mistake not to repeat itself. If you have not been taking care of yourself, start doing so. Your physical wellbeing plays a huge role in your productivity. Treat yourself like a professional sportsman; sleep, learn, work, re-energise, sleep and repeat the cycle. You will notice more clarity in thoughts and fewer mistakes.

5.    Let your actions rebuild your credibility

Strive to consistently deliver high-quality results to earn trust and admiration from your colleagues and bosses. Show your superiors that you are still a valuable asset in the company. Do not seclude yourself or opt to mute your ideas during meetings. Your mistake may be publicised in the most dramatic way ever but do not allow that single mistake to derail your career The bottom line is that you have to reinvent yourself by focusing more on high impact results. Mentally thrashing yourself will make your recovery period longer than it should be. Dust yourself up, gather your thoughts and get back to business.

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