Apologizing for a mistake at work may be one of the hardest things to do professionally. Most likely your mistake was acknowledged because it cost other employees some measure of their productivity, or it cost your employer a relationship with a client or a deadline. Humility is already a hard thing, and being humble in front of other employees can feel demeaning to your professional reputation. Tactically, your attitude while admitting to your mistake and the actions you take after making an apology can make the experience less demoralizing. It can turn an embarrassing situation into a learning experience, and an opportunity for professional growth.
The first thing to remind yourself about this kind of situation is that failure and its consequences are a part of life. No one makes it out without feeling the direct, negative consequences of their actions at least a few times in their life. Knowing this, you can accept the consequences and build upon them as learning experiences in your personal and professional lives.
When you find yourself in the situation of apologizing for a mistake at work, focus on the things that are directly under your control in the situation. You can’t control how your boss will react to the work mistake you’ve made and you can’t control what the consequences of your actions may be. You can, however, control the attitude you assume as you walk into your boss’s office to apologize for your actions. Showing genuine concern for your mistake and what it may have cost other employees shows integrity. It also proves that you are willing to accept responsibility for your actions, learn from your work mistakes and improve yourself. Being able to take the criticism and make it constructive for your job in the future makes you a valuable employee.
Aside from the tone of your apology, you can avoid undermining yourself by planning next steps to improve your work so that the issue does not come up again. This is another action that will show your superiors that you are taking responsibility and that you take your professional development seriously. Before you move to apologize, make sure that you can explain what steps you will take next to fix the problem and what measures you will take to ensure its prevention in the future.
In addition to your boss, there are also coworkers to be conscious of. Be gracious about the work mistakes of others. When your fellow employees are subject to similar situations, treat them the way you would hope they would treat you. Not only will this make you a pleasant person to work with, but it will encourage similar behavior if the tables are ever turned on you.
Finally, reassess your situation and move forward. Once you’ve made promises to your employer to turn the situation around, do everything within your power to do so. Make plans, set goals, and reorganize and restructure your working practices as necessary. As the employee directly involved in the situation, you have control over its resolution and understanding the implication for others. It is within your power to apologize and make the problem right.
How did you remain professional as you recovered from a mistake at work? How did you apologize for it? Share with us in the comments section below!
IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by Lord Jim