As a child the one thing I never wanted to do was disappoint anyone. I was the kid who only required a look from Mama to let me know I needed to stop what I was doing and make a different choice. I, like many people, felt that making a mistake was a bad thing, then a wonderful thing happened, I messed up. Not a small oops but what I thought was a catastrophic, world ending, no one will ever speak to me again mistake and you know what happened…very little. The world still spun around, my family still loved me and my career (at that time as a student) continued.

Fast forward a few years and I still hate to make a mistake but I have completely changed my frame of thinking. I learned one truth…If no one dies it can be fixed.   Fixing doesn’t mean un-doing, forgetting it ever happened or  even mean that you won’t have to deal with the consequences of making a mistake but it does mean we are typically able to recover (and often move ahead) from a mistake. These three steps can help you turn a mistake into an opportunity and recover with grace, style and your positive reputation intact.

1.     Be honest – There is a natural tendency to want to cover up mistakes but what message does that send your supervisors, co-workers and customers?  That gives them license to question both your ability and integrity. On the flip side, when you own up to the mistake as soon as possible you show that not only did you catch the problem before they had a chance to bring it to your attention but you were honest enough to let them know so it didn’t cause any further harm. People don’t expect perfection but they do expect accountability.

I once sent an email to a potential employer and I wrote, “My goals is…” Unfortunately, like so many others, I seem to be a better proofreader after I hit send on an email. I was horrified but needed to recover. I sent a follow up email that said, “My apologies to the readers and my 2nd grade grammar teacher. An extra S just jumped on the page and insisted on joining the party…” There was a chance they would have read that sentence and not noticed my mistake but that was a chance I wasn’t willing to take. By owning up to it I had a chance to show I did in fact have a grasp of English and it made them laugh. More importantly they knew that I was a person who took responsibilities for my actions. Negative into positive!

2.     Offer Solution – Saying you made a mistake is step 1 but correcting it is an even bigger step. As soon as you realize a mistake has been made think of a way to minimize its affect.  Offer to stay late to redo the project. Send a revised report to your boss. Draft an apology to your customer offering to fix the problem and an additional token of your company’s appreciation. Making a mistake can be bad but pawning your mistake off on someone else to fix is infinitely worse! Noticing a mistake before someone else does and coming up with a great solution proves that you are resourceful, attentive and diligent. Negative to positive!

3.     Make regular deposits into your reputation account – People forgive people that have proven themselves to be competent and capable. People remember the good over the bad when they believe that person always makes a genuine effort to do the best they can. The key to being “allowed” to make a mistake is to do it as infrequently as possible. Innovation and creativity are always great but when you prove to your employer and customers that you know when to take risks and when to play it safe they will trust your instincts and forgive your mis-steps.

Mistakes happen, they always have and always will. A big part of business (and life) is taking limited information and making our best-informed decision. Ideally, we would always get it right the first time but in reality we won’t, so having a recovery plan is essential. Don’t be afraid to act out of fear of making a mistake and don’t let a mistake define you or your career! Remember, there are very few mistakes that can’t be covered and corrected by paint, cheese or humor! Share some of your professional mistakes and recoveries with us. What did you learn and how did you make a potentially negative situation positive?


Christy Pruitt-Haynes Consulting works with organizations and individuals to help them on their quest towards professional excellence.  If you’re facing significant change, unprecedented growth or stagnant results Christy Pruitt-Haynes Consulting will help by providing customized tools to solve problems, increase employee engagement, improve leadership capabilities and increase profits. As a Speaker, Trainer and Coach Christy will provide diversity of thought, enhanced communication, improved leadership and a maximized corporate culture.  CPH Consulting will help grow your business!

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