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How to Admit Your Mistakes

How to Admit Your Mistakes

OK, you screwed up. Something’s gone horribly, horribly wrong, and it’s all your fault. And now, it’s time to pay the piper.

Maybe you lost your company’s big client. Maybe you forgot to do a critical part of that big project. Maybe you weren’t there for someone when they needed you, even when you said you would be. Whatever the situation, someone trusted you to do a job and you failed.

Now you’ve got to tell them.

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The instinctive reaction to a situation like this is “duck and cover” — protect yourself by any means necessary. Depending on how badly you screwed us, it could mean the end of your job, your career, your relationship, your status, or your reputation.

“Mistakes were made.”

Most people will try to weasel out of their mistakes. There’s a whole language of “weasel-words” people deploy to defer attention away from themselves, to downplay the seriousness of the situation, or even to deny anything went wrong at all.

The all-time universal champs at weaseling are government officials, and their all-time favorite way to weasel is the non-admission of guilt embodied by the phrase “mistakes were made”. It’s what Nixon said about Watergate, it’s what Reagan said about the Iron-Contra affair, it’s what Hillary Clinton said about Whitewater, it’s what Alberto Gonzalez said about his firing of federal prosecutors.

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Mistakes were made, but not by me — that’s the implication. They just kind of… happened. Nothing to worry about, really, just mistakes, you know — they were made. Move along, nothing to see here.

“I made a mistake.”

The problem with dodging the bullet is that the bullet is still flying, and still needs to be dealt with — if you dodge it, then it will probably hit someone else. “Whew!” Except not; if you’ve pinned your reputation on your ability to do the job, whatever the job, right, then the failure is still going to stick to you. Plus, you’ll have lost the trust of the people around you, especially the ones who ended up paying for your mistakes, whether by taking the blame or cleaning up the mess. Or, in the worst case, you’ll have distracted enough attention that the mess doesn’t get cleaned up at all.

On the other hand, admitting your fault puts you one step closer to dealing with it, and can often be the first step towards a successful turn-around. At the least, though, it shows that you’re someone with integrity and courage, even in the face of disastrous consequences.

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Here are a few pointers about ‘fessing up and dealing with your mistakes:

  • See things from someone else’s perspective: If you’ve made a promise and failed to keep it, put yourself in the other party’s shoes and see how things look from there. How would you feel? What would your response be if you were them? And what action would satisfy you?
  • Be sympathetic: Realize that your mistakes might affect many more people than just you, and recognize the pain you’ve caused. A little bit of sympathy can well be the opening you need to set things right.
  • Take responsibility: Don’t try to weasel out of it, and don’t look around wildly for someone else to blame. Even if your failure came about because someone let you down, you’re ultimately responsible for the projects under your authority.
  • Accept the consequences: It’s hard, I know, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet and take your lumps. Few actions come without any consequences at all; be prepared to embrace whatever befalls you as a result of the mistakes you’ve made.
  • Have a plan: Taking responsibility means being prepared to clean up the mess, which means you need a plan. You should have a clear idea of what went wrong and how you can fix it — and how you can avoid it in the future.
  • Be sincere: Don’t pretend to feel sympathy or act phony so that the other person can see how deeply you care. Don’t play the martyr. Show honest emotion — the first step to rebuilding the trust lost.
  • Apologize. No, really. A lot of people go to great lengths to make up for their mistakes — or to hide them — when a simple “I’m sorry” would do the job, and cause a lot fewer hard feelings.

None of these tips will prevent the worst from happening — you may still lose your job, your client, your partner, or your friendship. But you’ll have done so with dignity, instead of disgrace — allowing you to walk away with your head held high.

And by taking full responsibility for your mistakes and acting appropriately, you’ll have set yourself on a path to failing successfully — to learning what there is to learn and moving forward with grace and purpose.

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Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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