Own Up to Your Mistake

Ownup_march2012_webHas anyone ever told you that if you aren’t making mistakes at work you probably aren’t blazing any new trails either? While you shouldn’t throw caution to the wind in the effort of progress, there is a chance that no matter how prepared and organized you try to be you’re going to make a mistake at work. But it doesn’t have to ruin your day or your career. You just need to handle it properly.

Be honest and quick.

Nothing good will come from covering up your mistake, so it’s best to admit the error as soon as possible. And, unless running around screaming about the problem will save lives or dollars, you need to alert your manager and those impacted in a cool, calm, and collected manner. Depending on the timeliness of the error you may be able to schedule a meeting with everyone in a few hours or you may need to circle up in the next 15 minutes. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, try not to interrupt other meetings, it can just create more chaos

It’s important to remember that you need to admit your mistake and provide some explanation as to why it occurred. Clearly explain what happened and providing any additional support, research, or correspondence to clarify the mistake is a good first step in communicating the situation. Questions will arise around your mistake, so remember to answer honestly and, if you don’t know the answer, resist the urge to make something up. It’s better to say you don’t know rather than to lie. Now is not the time to lay blame elsewhere or dwell on elements outside of your control.

Have a solution prepared.

Be ready to move forward with a proposed solution. When you’re focusing on calmly presenting your mistake, take a moment to think through the problem you’ve created and what solutions you can offer. If you have time, check into details like availability times of others you may need to inform after you’ve discussed the problem with your manager, any expenses that may arise from the error, or past protocol if this error has occurred at the company before. Don’t stall gathering information and solutions, but try to be as prepared as possible so that you can have a productive discussion on a solution. Spending a few extra minutes to get answers to the questions you know your boss will ask is better than rushing ahead and having to go back in a second time with the answers.

The first steps you can take to rebuild trust within your workplace after a mistake is handling the situation professionally. As you’d expect, trying to cover up your mistake or redirecting blame will not serve you well. Do you have any examples to share on effectively moving forward after a mistake?


By Rachel Rudisill


  1. Jerry Ackerman

    Thank you for sharing this post. I do agree about owning up to your mistakes rather than telling all lies. Eventually, the truth will come out. It’s better to clear everything as soon as possible than piling up lies. It will definitely worsen the situation. Trust is a major factor at work. If you commit a mistake, it is easier to rebuild their trust if you admit your mistake and not lie about it.

  2. Patty

    Should I say I was requested to resign because a widowed doctor was beginning to show interest in me, but my supervisor didn’t like it because she was after the doctor as you could tell. This doctor ended up marrying a nurse. What happens then?

    1. Post
      Jared Cole

      Patty, use your best judgement when dealing with this type of situation. If asked about your previous job, focus on how your skills improved instead of co-worker relationships. Thanks for stopping by and giving feedback!

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      Jared Cole

      It’s sad that not all management act this way, but it’s up to the individual to use their best judgement when considering actions after making a mistake. Sometimes it’s best to be an example and not compare. Thanks for voicing your thoughts, I’d love to hear more.

  3. Laura

    I work in an office where admitting mistakes or shortfalls seems to be taboo. If I tell a patient that I don’t know something and have to get back to them with the correct answer I get told that I should have made something up rather than say “I don’t know.” Whenever mistakes are made they usually get blamed on the computer or other sources, I believe that people understand that everyone makes mistakes and are more apt to forgive that than if they find out someone lied. Am I wrong?

    1. Post
      Jared Cole

      Laura, use your best judgement when deciding on what is right or wrong in this situation. Find out as much as you can before making a decision. Thanks for stopping by and let me know if there are any topics I can cover for you.

  4. Sonya

    Hi Rachel! This is a great article. I just had an interview where I had to admit to having a job for only 2 weeks. I haven’t heard from them since but that particular job does thorough background checks and they would have definitely found out. When they asked me why I quit I did not want to tell them that the job was a total joke where I had to raise my hand to ask for permission to use the restroom. It was demeaning and beyond unprofessional! I followed the don’t bad mouth your previous job rule but I feel like telling the truth cost me the job opportunity.

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