You may dread confessing your errors. You hate to look bad, and you assume that you’ll lose the respect and admiration of others.
But your stumbles don’t have to stain your image. By pouncing on such situations and confronting blunders head-on, you can enhance your stature as a straight shooter. Here’s how:
Seek cause-effect relationships. When dissecting the snafu, remember the law of unintended consequences. Analyze how your well-intentioned steps proved wrong—and find out why. For instance, you may realize that you tried to handle a complex task on your way out the door, thus rushing and skipping key steps.
Learn and warn. Rather than attempt to cover up or shrug off your errors, publicize them. Extract a lesson from the experience and then write a memo showing colleagues how to avoid making the same mistake.
Example: You erase a computer file by rushing to log off and hitting the wrong keys; you compound the mistake by failing to back up your work. Explain to others that you’ve learned to save your material more frequently, and warn that the log-off procedure can result in lost files if you skip steps.
Prune your message. Before telling your boss about your error, prepare a summary. Use the fewest words possible to recount what happened and why.
If you don’t rehearse what you’re going to say, your attempt at a straightforward confession can degenerate into a confusing and rambling monologue.
Give “just the facts.” Acknowledge your mistake in three succinct parts: your intent, the result, the solution. Then stop talking.
Cut the blame game. When admitting a blunder, you know not to shift the blame to others. Better yet, don’t even mention blame at all. Speak in terms of responsibility. Say, “I take responsibility for what I did.” You’ll sound more mature and authoritative. Self-scolding rarely comes across as genuine.
Keep a thick skin. If you made a particularly careless or costly mistake, you’ll probably hear about it for a while. Treat tactless comments as a test. The words might sting, but don’t lose your composure. The way you carry yourself after a high-profile error can overshadow the error itself.