You’ve made a mistake. It might be big or it might be small. The question now is what to do about it.

Take Corrective Steps Promptly

In general, experts say the first step in owning up for a mistake at work is to keep your perspective. Everyone makes mistakes. Most mistakes can be fixed: Yes, there might be consequences, but you can usually survive those. Of course, your mind may cause you to play out a worst-case scenario and you may fear the worst, but remember the worst (however you define “worst”) generally won’t happen.

What you DO need to do is own up to the mistake quickly. Apologize if you need to, and remember long explanations and stammering won’t help. The person who will hold you accountable for the mistake will likely want to know what you are “doing” about the mistake to correct it. So, keep your explanation short: “I made a mistake, and here is what I am doing to correct it.” If you know a time frame for the correction, add it. However, in generally keep your thoughts and words focused, clear and simple.  For, example if you have a time frame for the correction, “We should be up and running again in about an hour.” Such basic statements might be all you need. Skip long justifications and lengthy explanations when getting back on track quickly is the goal.

Anticipate When More Is Needed

But, you ask, what if more is needed? If that is the case, let your boss or co-worker know how you plan to avoid a duplication of the mistake in the future. Then—and this is the critical part—make sure you follow through on your plan. You need to earn back trust, and a repeat of the same mistake will not be as likely to be forgiven as a first mistake.

History is filled with successful people who have made mistakes, but the secret of their ultimate success is that they learned from those mistakes. You may even be able to turn your mistake into a positive.  The playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “Success does not consist of never making mistakes but in never making the same one twice.”

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