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November 15, 2022 - 6 minutes

So You've Made a Mistake at Work...Now What?

Mistakes happen! The key is in how you handle them…

Ironhack - Changing The Future of Tech Education


Mistakes happen all the time. So why do they feel so horrible? Does it really have to be this way? Here is a mini guide to getting out of your mistakes and even making something of them. You will see that you can come out of a mistake unscathed, and even learn useful things for your work. Let’s get started.

You’ve Just Made Your First Mistake! What Now?

The package has just arrived. You open it in a hurry, eager to see the beautiful mugs and water bottles with the company logo for the new employees. And then you realise that you forgot to send the new logo and the rebranding colour to the printer. There are 500 goodies, the entire remaining budget for the year is gone and you have to tell your boss about the mistake. Ready to faint, you sweat profusely and lose your tongue. What should you do?

At the coffee machine, you tell your story to your fellow developer. She tells you that she made a code error that broke the JavaScript infrastructure of one of your clients, who hasn't realized it yet, and that she can't fix her mistake. 

You both realise that mistakes (even those with serious consequences) can happen to anyone. Really anyone! You put it into perspective by saying to yourselves that you do not work in a hospital or in a nuclear power plant cooling area. 

Taking a step back and staying calm is the first step in dealing with a mistake, no matter how big or small. Take a deep breath and put your brain in solution mode. What can you do to fix the problem? If you acknowledge your mistake and come up with a solution at the same time, your boss shouldn't hold it against you for long.

Why It’s Important Not to Hide Your Mistakes

To confess or not to confess, that is the question... This Shakespearean dilemma is in fact not one at all. Like a boomerang, your little or big lie may come back in your face if you cover up your blunder. You will live with a sword of Damocles hanging over your head, you don't want that, do you? So get up the courage to tell your bosses everything. 

How do you phrase it in the most appropriate way?

- Explain clearly and ask for help. 

➤ "I made a mistake and I'd like to tell you about it so that you know about it and we can fix it together.

- Say that you are coming with both the problem and the solution. 

➤ "It's embarrassing, but I'm going to give you two ways I've thought of to fix my mistake. 

- Summarise the mistake. 

➤ "In short, I... it had these consequences... etc". 

- Elaborate in a concise but precise manner, providing only the important details. 

- Propose the solution(s) you have thought of. 

- Be humble, calm and listen to your boss's reactions. You can say you are sorry or explain where the mistake came from, without trying too hard to clear your name or justify it. This posture will surely make your boss more empathetic!

Good Companies Let You Make Mistakes

Good companies and good leaders know that mistakes are part of the process. But they have their limits, and you have to make mistakes in the right way… Here are three tips that will help you make mistakes with panache and to make the most of your mistakes (for yourself and others). 

Own up to it

The stress of being wrong can lead anyone to be defensive, self-justifying or even unfaithful or aggressive.

Avoid these common parts and assume your mistakes with a clear head and composure. 

This mature attitude will make you a much more trustworthy professional. Your bosses will also feel more reassured that you are taking responsibility and keeping a cool head. This will be a much better basis for the discussion you will have about how to fix what you did.

Don’t Make the Same Mistake Twice

The key to successful mistake-making is to show that you learn from them. 

One of my bosses used to say that I could make as many mistakes as I wanted but never in the same way. And he was right. 

To err is human and some mistakes are inevitable. But the important thing is to understand how they came about and why, so that you don't fall for them again. 

If we take the two examples given at the beginning of this article, drawing up a checklist before sending a brief to the printer will ensure that next time you do not forget the graphic elements. Similarly, the developer can rely on experienced colleagues to sort out the bug at the client's premises and set up a team to ensure that this does not happen again. 

Here are three tried and tested tips to show that you learn from your mistakes: 

- Adjust the process that led you to a mistake to ensure you don't make it again.

- Train yourself on what you didn't know how to do that made you go wrong. 

- Share the reasons for the failure with your colleagues to avoid the same unfortunate situation for others!

Run a post-mortem

In fact, sharing what you have learned by making mistakes is important at the company level. It does several things: 

- Let everyone understand how the mistake happened. Was it fatigue? Was it a moment of inattention? Were the company records confusing? 

- For the team to draw up a plan to ensure that the mistake does not happen again in the future. 

There are several ways to do this: 

- Simply a note by email or on a corporate social network channel (Slack...)

- On the company's internal documentation, for example by creating a Notion sub-page on a project 

- At a meeting where you are given a small amount of time to talk about the subject 

- By giving a mini conference in front of colleagues during lunch break, if it was a very big mistake. 

Talking about your mistake to your team or even the whole company is impressive the first time. But it is the professionals with the most distance who do it best. It is therefore an indisputable mark of professional maturity. And if you can believe our long experience with dumplings at work, it will only make you more respectable in the long run. 

In a nutshell 

It's a bit of a vicious circle... We make more mistakes when we are stressed at work, but admitting them puts a lot of pressure on us. Owning up to mistakes is the best solution to make the office climate more conducive to a calmer way of working. We hope these tips will help you grow in your handling of mistakes, big or small. 

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