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How to Recover From a (Big) Mistake at Work

Written on 3/17/2008 by Cathy from Chief Family Officer.

Unfortunately, mistakes happen. Sometimes, big mistakes happen. I recently had to handle one at the office. I’m an attorney, and the mistake I made was partly the result of an error in judgment on my part, and partly the result of a lack of communication from my bosses. The mistake: I missed a filing deadline, a BIG filing deadline.

I discovered the missed deadline three days after it had passed, when I checked my email upon arriving home from work. I felt embarrassment and horror as I realized the error in judgment that I had made. I felt anger at my bosses for their lack of communication and failure to tell me that this filing might be coming and that I should keep an eye out for it. I also felt helpless as I realized that the error in judgment would be a stain on my reputation and record for some time to come.

After a few minutes, I realized that I wasn’t entirely helpless; there were some things I could do to minimize the damage that my error had caused. While I hope you don’t need to utilize these tips, I think you’ll find them helpful if you find yourself in a similar situation:

    1. Take responsibility. Upon realizing the error that had occurred, I resisted the temptation to bury my head in the sand and instead immediately called my bosses’ attention to the problem and apologized. 

It’s too soon for me to know the long-term impact of this mistake and in fact, I’m concerned that it might affect whether I get a promotion that I’ll be eligible for in a couple of years. However, I can already tell that the actions I took immediately following the mistake have helped to significantly mitigate its effects.

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