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How to Recover from Mistakes at Work

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How to Recover from Mistakes at Work

By Michelle Yozzo Drake

I've been having One of Those Days. You know the kind I'm talking about.

  • Missed the morning client meeting that I don't remember noticing on the calendar before.
  • Accidentally hung up on an important media contact while fumbling with the phone.
  • Could've sworn that I dropped that VERY IMPORTANT, DUE TODAY bill in the mail...and yet here it sits on my desk under a pile of unfiled files.

Sounds familiar, right?

The best remedy I can think of for a day like this is to go home, curl up on the sofa with a glass of wine, and blot out the memory of today with mindless TV (too bad "America's Next Top Model" is on tomorrow night!).

But unfortunately, professionals like us can't handle mistakes like that (at least not all the time). So how do we recover from the mistakes that ding our days and, in some cases, can even damage our reputations and our careers?

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The first thing I do is try to cast my failures in a positive light. Failure is a great teaching tool. It's a way for me to learn how to make myself better and to analyze a situation to see how I can improve it. I try to see it as an opportunity to identify where I'm falling short so I can figure out how to get myself back on track.

It takes a LOT of willpower not to run in the opposite direction of my mistakes. I fight the urge run away or to blame someone else all the time! But then I challenge myself to run toward my mistake instead. I own up to it, face the fallout head-on, and do my best strategic thinking to mend the situation.

For example, missing the morning meeting. I start by holding myself accountable to both the client and my colleagues. I contact the client and my colleagues immediately and offer a sincere apology and a promise that this will not happen again in the future.

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Next, I analyze what went wrong and figure out what tools I can put in place to prevent this kind of mistake. Is my desk too cluttered to see my calendar clearly? Are there too many distractions in my office in the morning that prevent me from paying close attention to my appointments? Once I pinpoint the break in the chain, I immediately set about fixing it.

No matter how big or small the mistake I make, I always stay calm and take control of the situation. Losing my head isn't going to make things any better! I take control over how I'm going to respond, and I fully focus myself on the moment and the task at hand.


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"Spirit has fifty times the strength and staying-power of brawn and muscle. Mark Twain