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Alison McGavin: How to recover from mistakes and regain trust

Every single person reading this article has made a mistake at work. If it’s a large mistake you might need to start over again with your work colleagues. And whether a lot of time has passed or just a little, Alison McGavin explains what you need to do to get your working relationships back on track.

No one likes to be responsible for mistakes. However, if you’ve stuffed up at some point, and your manager is not happy with you, dust yourself off because there is good news; mistakes, even big ones, don’t have to leave a permanent mark on your career.

Here are some steps to gain back your manager’s trust and perhaps increase the respect in the meantime.

1. OWN IT AND ‘FESS UP’

The blunder has happened and, no matter what you do, you can’t change that. The most important part of making a mistake is how quickly you own it. This will keep the collateral damage to a minimum. Hidden problems become serious threats!

Tell your manager straight away, but don’t make it about you. Keep it to the facts and don’t make excuses. Explain how it happened and try to have a couple of potential solutions prepared to show that you’re working towards repairing it and ensuring it doesn’t happen again.

Remember – businesses succeed because they recover from the mistakes people make, not because nobody ever does anything wrong.

2. APOLOGISE

There are right and wrong ways to apologise! Your manager is upset that this mistake has occurred and so it’s only right to apologise to those who have been let down. Your apology needs to be in three parts – admitting the mistake, saying sorry and acknowledging what needs to be done differently in the future.

3. FIX IT

Don’t hand the problem over. It’s your mess-up and you’ve owned it, so now you must fix it. Sure, you might need help and it’s okay to ask for that help, but let it be known that you want to rectify this; you want to figure it out yourself. This will help you not repeat the error in the future. The faster you engage in owning a mistake and in repairing it, the more quickly your manager will stop thinking about the mistake and who made it in the first place.

4. REFLECT AND ADDRESS THE CAUSE

Take the time to truly think about what steps led to the mistake and what could have been done to avoid it. What can you do differently? Reflection can often be easier when some time has passed; as they say, hindsight is a wonderful thing. 

Reflecting might make you aware that there are patterns in your performance or behaviour that contribute to these errors. Once you realise that, you can then address how you might change, or put measures in place to prevent the same mistake occurring again. Would implementing an ideal week ensure that you don’t miss that task? Or perhaps you need to be more organised or follow checklists. Find out what works for you and make it easier for yourself by implementing the solution.

5. SHARE WHAT YOU LEARNED

At one time or another the highest-performing teams are those that make the most mistakes! The difference is that these high-performing teams share their mistakes and the solutions so that everyone, not just you, learns and grows beyond them.

Following the above steps after a mistake is crucial, but it’s what you do from there on in that will preserve the trust you’ve worked so hard to build. Not only are you allowed to make mistakes, you’re expected to; but now when that happens you’ll know exactly what to do to keep the damage to a minimum.

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Alison McGavin

Alison McGavin is a Senior Recruitment Consultant with Real+, for more information visit realplus.com.au.

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