Ways to right a work-related mistake


Making a work-related mistake is always scary, but during a recession, with massive layoffs, cutbacks and corporate fat-cutting going on, our smallest mistakes can seem like the end of the world.

Here's an eight-step plan for surviving a stupid mistake -- even during a stupid recession:

Step 1: Find out all the consequences of your error. What's the absolute worst that can happen as a result of it?

Step 2: Find out what it will take to fix the damage your mistake has caused. What can you do? Can you write a formal letter of apology to the customer? Fix your record-keeping system so that this will never happen again? What?

Step 3: Stop scolding yourself and start acting like a mature adult with a situation to handle instead of a school child in trouble. Ask yourself how you'd react if a friend had made the same mistake, instead, then treat yourself accordingly.

Step 4: Tell the truth. Don't wait to be caught or try to weasel out of this mess with half-truths and subterfuge. Under most DTC circumstances, confession can not only be good for your soul, but for your self-respect -- and your career -- as well.

Everybody respects people who have the integrity and self-confidence to simply say: "I was wrong. I'm sorry. Here's what I'm going to do to see that it doesn't happen again," when they've made a mistake.

Step 5: Make an appointment with your boss to discuss this matter calmly and thoroughly. The time to admit that you've made a mistake is not as you pass your boss in the hall or when she's already busy handling six other crises. It's at a time that's convenient and unrushed for both of you, and in a private setting.

Step 6: "Come clean" in a way that leaves your boss respecting you. Look and sound like an adult who's willing to take responsibility for her actions -- not an 8-year-old who's been caught being bad.

Don't cover up any part of your error or avoid taking any of the responsibility for it. Don't minimize -- or exaggerate -- the importance of your transgression. This is not the time for dramatics; it's the time for honesty, accuracy, objectivity and professionalism.

Step 7: Keep your own boundaries intact. Your boss may need to express his or her frustration and/or anxiety over your error. But she does not have the right to yell, name-call, broadcast your mistake to your co-workers, or frighten and humiliate you in any other way.

Step 8: Forgive yourself. Everybody makes mistakes -- everybody! Learn from this one, then put it aside. Because the sooner you forgive yourself and get on with doing the best job you can, the sooner everyone else will forgive you, too.

Questions and comments for Niki Scott should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.

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