Mistakes happen. A typo might cause data disruptions for businesses across the Northeast. Or maybe you sent the wrong email to a client. Big or small, publicly or in-house, everyone makes a mistake at some point in their career.
But a mistake doesn’t mark the end of your career. It might not even be a speed bump. If you have the correct attitude and a willingness to make things right, a work blunder can be a learning experience that gives you valuable career skills for the future. That depends on how you handle it.
“Whether you are an employee or own your own business, you’ve got to be able to handle and recover from making a blunder, because we all do it,” said Sharon Schweitzer, author and founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, a company that advises corporate leaders in cross-cultural etiquette.
Schweitzer said the steps for recovering from business failures are the same even for the newest employee: minimizing emotions; maintaining transparency; accepting responsibility; apologizing, repairing or controlling the damage; and learning from the experience.
Minimizing emotions is probably the biggest challenge for most people, particularly in a stressful work situation.
When people make a mistake, especially at work, they are embarrassed and maybe even ashamed, plus they’re concerned for their professional credibility, Schweitzer noted. “You may even feel a little panic and uncertainty: ‘Where do I go? What do I do?'”
The key to minimizing emotions is to maintain perspective. Seldom does a mistake end a life or even a business. It’s important to remember that. Schweitzer added that it can help to remember that some of the most successful people have experienced colossal failures.
Sony founder Akio Morita failed at his first invention attempt – a rice cooker that burned the rice. If he had stopped after that failure, Sony’s subsequent innovations wouldn’t have led to the myriad products the company went on to develop.
The next crucial step when dealing with a career mishap is transparency: Own up to your role in the error. Examine the error to see how you can fix it and prevent it from happening again.
Next, of course, it’s time to craft the perfect work apology. Schweitzer suggests going to each person affected as soon as possible to explain the situation. Acknowledge your mistake, and let them know you’re fixing the problem or have already mitigated the situation. If needed, let them know what steps you are taking to prevent the issue from happening in the future.
When you apologize, be concise and factual. “Don’t overdo the apology,” Schweitzer said. “Just say, ‘I made a mistake, and this is how I’m fixing it.’ Sometimes, that sentence is all people need to hear.”
After the apology, follow through on damage control. “You earn trust through your actions, not just your words,” Schweitzer said.
Proving that you are willing to own up to your actions and put in the work to fix your mistakes can help rebuild and even improve your professional reputation and credibility.
Once you rebuild a client’s trust following a big mistake, secure a testimonial from them to show potential new clients that you’re willing to put in the work to improve your business and serve your clients.
The last step is learning from your mistakes. If you have supportive colleagues, ask them for their take on what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening in the future. If your error uncovered a potential problem that could arise again, work to change procedures or implement safeguards.
After you’ve accomplished the primary steps for dealing with a business failure, you have one more important item: Take care of yourself. Self-care is an essential aspect of a positive work-life balance and a way to combat burnout, but it’s even more critical after a career mishap.
Here are some ways to practice self-care after a career mistake:
Karina Fabian contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.