Mistake oops key on keyboard

You Messed Up At Work. Now What?

We all know that sinking feeling in our stomachs when we realize something’s gone wrong at work. Maybe it’s an email we forgot, a presentation that contained an error, or admin slip-ups that cost big time. When we’re passionate about our work, disappointment can hit hard, so how do we move forward?

The liberating truth is that mistakes are:

We’re human beings and we lead ever more complex lives, so making bad calls or tripping up is unavoidable. Every great leader you admire has made their fair share of mistakes and is all the better for them.

If there is one writer who knows the significance of embracing our fallibility, it’s vulnerability researcher Brené Brown. She has spent her career advocating for humans and workplaces that accept mistakes and welcome humanity. More than just creating psychological safety, Brené recognizes that being able to lean into our errors can lead to our highest contributions. “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change,” says the Texan professor.

Next time you find yourself in the depths of a mess-up, we hope this article will be there for you. Here are our top tips to right yourself when you’ve gone awry at work; enjoy.

Assess The Damage

First up, find ou the full extent of the situation. This is important for two reasons. You can not only repair all harm done, but also give yourself some much-needed perspective.

We can only fix what’s gone wrong when we know what has happened, and it can be easy to miss the details when in a state of panic. Being able to see the full picture limits further harm and lets you find the answers that your team might need.

All too often we spiral into believing our mistakes are far larger than they really are. Taking time to assess gives us not just a chance to reflect and learn, but also the opportunity to check-in, breathe, and realize that things are rarely as awful as we believe.

mistakes at work oops keyboard key

Come Clean As Soon As You Can

When something’s our fault, it’s natural to want to keep it to ourselves! The reasons we want to hide our mistakes are many, often including:

  • We’re scared our job is at risk
  • We are worried our colleagues will think less of us
  • We’re embarrassed that we got something simple wrong

But the second step to getting back on track is to confess. Now you’ve taken the time to assess the damage, you can offer an accurate report to those who need to know. That should include your team members as well as anyone needed to rectify the situation.

If you’re nervous about coming clean, we loved these tips on how to tell your boss you’ve made a mistake. Focus on providing accurate information and remember that the people you’re speaking to have likely done something similar or worse. Fessing up promptly can gain some credibility with your peers, so don’t be afraid. Apologize so that you can move on.

Lead The Charge On A Repair Effort

The best way to make amends is to come ready with a solution. If you can, it can be great to figure out a little of the way you can repair a situation before you speak to your team or seniors. Having a suggestion on how to proceed can keep a conversation positive and productive. It’s not always possible, so don’t sweat if that’s not possible right now, but if you have an idea, share it freely.

It may well turn out that you aren’t actually the right person to tackle the mistake, but still do your best to get the discussion started. It will sound best coming from you, so be brave.

Put Yourself Out There Instead Of Hiding In The Shadows

When we mess up, it is very normal to want to hide afterward. We’re afraid that we’ll mess up again, maybe even worse. While this is totally understandable, in reality, the odds are so low compared to the risk of not putting ourselves out there again. Now is the ideal time to be brave. If a project comes up that you have the skillset for, say yes. If something is being organized out of work and more hands are needed, step up.

Doing this is powerful because

  • You are creating the chance to prove yourself to colleagues that will appreciate you trying to make amends
  • Taking control of your situation can boost any battered confidence you might feel
  • It gives you something new to focus on, rather than ruminating on the past.

Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”

Brene Brown
Mistake at work woman computer

Normalize Errors And Embrace Your Humanity

The next step from learning from this particular mistake is to accept that someday, you’ll make another. As we can’t avoid our capacity for error, we should instead focus on accepting it.

Try journaling about how mistakes are exceptional teachers, and even have a few famous big business mess-ups up your sleeve for next time you give yourself a hard time. Above all else, remember that you genuinely can overcome perfectionism, and be kind to yourself!


  • Making mistakes is unavoidable and beneficial to our growth long-term
  • Miss-ups can also expose major flaws and lead to happy accidents
  • Workplaces that embrace them are more likely to innovate than their peers
  • Start out by assessing the scope of what’s gone wrong, to facilitate easier repair work and get needed perspective
  • Come clean to the right parties to get things back on track as soon as possible
  • Try to be the first person to suggest a solution
  • Take the next opportunity to put yourself out there to regain credibility and confidence

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