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How to Handle a Slip-Up at a New Job

February 22nd, 2019

It’s your first year on the job and things are looking great! Or at least OK. You’re learning the ropes, winning over supporters and connecting with co-workers. Then something goes wrong. An embarrassing mistake, but you’re eventually forgiven; after all, you’re new, and this is how you learn. A rough day ends, and you wake up the next morning feeling a little better. Until …

It happens again. This time, you have no one and nothing to blame but your own shortcomings. You’re not new anymore, you should have known better and your blunder can’t be attributed to any circumstance or innocent lack of information. You had everything you needed, and you still screwed up. Badly. What now?

First, own what you’ve done.

Don’t launch an immediate search for excuses or explanations. Even if there’s a chance this isn’t your fault, leave that possibility on the shelf for now. And as you own your blunder, be very clear. Use the exact words “I own this mistake” when you speak to an angry boss or steamed clients. Even if you aren’t 100 percent sure you deserve to be thrown in the stocks, use the phrase and hold tightly to your dignity and integrity. First things first.

Second, make it right.

If you aren’t sure how to atone or heal those you’ve hurt (and even if you’re pretty sure this isn’t possible) seek advice. Be humble and ask the right person—your damaged clients, embarrassed boss or upset co-workers—what it might take to correct what you’ve done and put the universe back in order. Don’t expect a positive response right away, or any response. If doors are slammed in your face, be patient. This is part of the reset process.

Identify, verbalize and isolate worst-case scenarios.

Maybe this mistake will get you fired. If so, identify and accept that possibility. Maybe the company will lose money, or innocent stakeholders could be hurt by what you’ve done. Don’t let nameless anxieties and terrible possibilities drag you into panic and paralysis. Name them. Then face them and deal with them one by one.

Learn at least one critical lesson.

Think, reflect and identify at least one key lesson or something you’ll do differently next time to avoid this outcome. Verbalize that lesson. Write it down. And be absolutely sure—even if you’re fired—that your boss knows you’ve done this. By learning, and sharing what you’ve learned, you give yourself a fighting chance at redemption and forgiveness. You prove you’re working hard to earn back the trust you’ve lost.

Everyone makes mistakes. A mistake-free person is a person who takes no risks, makes no hard decisions and lacks meaningful life experience. Don’t be that person. But when you DO mess up, make the most of the moment and recover your stride with grace. For more on how to be the hero of your own life story, contact the career growth experts at Merritt.

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