Maybe something like this has happened to you. The work presentation you just finished was spectacular. A spectacular fail, that is. The relevant statistics disappeared from your brain. Your slideshow had a glitch. You stumbled over answers to simple questions. The confused expression on your colleagues’ faces said it all.
Or, perhaps, on the day of a project deadline, your boss asks for the results. Your only thought is, “What project?” Somehow this assignment fell through the cracks. You’re more than poorly prepared — you have exactly zero work to submit.
At some point, just about everyone experiences professional slip-ups. It’s not because you’re inept — it’s because you’re human. Try as you might, you’re simply not perfect. A misstep doesn’t have to be a catastrophe, though. You can put the misadventure behind you and move on. Once you do that, it’s more likely that others will, too.
Wishing won’t make your blunder disappear, but you can control damage and start redeeming yourself. Above all, don’t make excuses. Admit that you screwed up. Everyone knows it. If the news hasn’t reached your supervisor, you should be the one to reveal the gaffe. Otherwise, the workplace becomes too much like the schoolyard. Someone tattles while you hide.
Refusing to take responsibility for your actions is unprofessional and won’t help others forget your stumble. As long as you believe that others are judging you, you’ll feel insecure.
As much as you’d like to forget your failure at work, you need to examine what happened. That’ll keep you from being in the same place next week, next month or next year. Begin with the assignment. What exactly were you supposed to accomplish? What was your goal? Did you actually address it?
Explore the components of your plan. There are lots of ways to mess up. At which point did you head in the wrong direction? Maybe you started out using the wrong approach. Did you veer off-task along the way? Your methods might have been off-target or out-of-date. Perhaps you missed cues that a revision was in order. Is there a point where you could have made an adjustment that would have avoided the disaster? Did you ignore feedback? Skip a step? Lose sight of your goal?
Uncover what dropped you into the depths of despair so you don’t wind up there again.
You didn’t do the job right the first time around. That doesn’t mean you can’t repair the mess. You figured out where you went wrong, so set a course-correction. Make a plan based on what you learned. If there’s been fallout from your original gaffe, you’ll have to fix that, too. Be sure to run the strategy by your boss, but chances are good you’ll get points for cleaning up after yourself.
Get Past It
This slip-up isn’t the defining point of your life — unless you let it be. If you want everyone else to move on, you’ll have to, as well. Mend what you broke and then get cracking on the next project. Not only will you be productive, but you also won’t have time to brood over every little thing you did wrong.
When you go home, keep busy, too. Don’t spend your off-hours obsessing over your failure at work. You need time to unwind and relax, or you risk burnout.
You can’t dispute the specific fiasco at work, but you can negate the notion that you’re a failure. You’ve had lots of successes. It may not seem true in the moment, but take some time to think. Start a list of professional achievements. Even after the dust has settled, keep adding to the list. You’ll have it handy when you experience another flop. And, because you’re human, it’s bound to happen.
When you’ve been crushed by failure at work, you may be afraid you’ll mess up again. If you start second-guessing yourself, it can affect the quality, creativity and timeliness of your output. Before you reach that point, get another opinion. Check in with a mentor or dependable associate for feedback on your recovery.
Ask for opinions about your handling of the crisis. Did you act professionally? Did your repair work do the trick? Are you coming across as trustworthy? You’ve probably done all the right things, and your observer will reinforce your actions. But if you’ve haven’t bounced back yet, it’s better to know sooner rather than later. You still have the opportunity to repair your reputation.
The issue isn’t that you floundered at work. Most errors can be fixed. What’s really important to your boss and colleagues is how you step up to handle yourself — and the situation — during the aftermath.
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