Tactfully Recover From a Mistake: 3 Steps to Take

In a perfect world, no one would make mistakes – the Tower of Pisa wouldn’t have started to lean after only 10 years, there would have been enough life boats on the Titanic, and 12 book publishers wouldn’t have rejected the Harry Potter manuscript. 

But at some point, a mistake will happen. And that mistake will play a key role in your leadership development. Here’s exactly what to do after you’ve made a mistake.

Ask yourself one question

Owning it is half the solution. The other half is getting a jumpstart on damage control. Ask yourself: Who does this mistake impact?

Whether it’s an employee, supervisor, colleague or even a friend, it’s likely going to impact someone. If it had negative consequences on someone, that person deserves an apology. It’s tactful and shows your professionalism.

Don’t just look for the clearly impacted person – there may be less-than-obvious ramifications somewhere along the line.

Ask yourself what ideal outcome you’d like to see and work backwards from there. You’ll cover every person your mistake affected.

If you need to restore someone’s faith or trust in you, let the person know your game plan for making the situation better and that you’ll be keeping him or her in the loop.

Accept the consequences

OK, so the apologies have been given. Now what? Remember what Teddy Roosevelt once said: In any moment of decision, the best thing you do is the right thing, the next thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.

It’s time to start patching up things. Even though your mistake affects others, it still falls on your shoulders to fix it.

Any action you can take to remedy the mistake will show you’re working hard to fix it. Make lemonade out of lemons – the best kind of mistake is one that you can learn from.

Added bonus: On the chance your credibility took a hit because of the mistake, this will help build it back up. It shows you’ll do whatever it takes to right a wrong, and you aren’t afraid to do even more hard work.

Let it go

Whether this means singing the popular Frozen song over and over in your head or talking it out with a colleague, one thing’s for sure: Let it go.

Fixating on your mistake isn’t going to get you anywhere. In fact, it’ll just hold you back from being productive. Remind yourself that you’re human and you’ve done everything you can to fix the problem. Then take a deep breath and keep going forward.

Can’t seem to get past it? Try this trick: Give yourself a deadline to stop mulling over the mistake. Once you’ve done everything in your power to fix it, tell yourself you won’t beat yourself up about it after a certain time that day. It forces you to move past it and focus on your next moves.