Everyone, even in business settings, is prone to lapses of judgment. While we all aim to keep our composure in the workplace, no one is perfect. There may be days when our emotions get the best of us. Long hours in the office and stressful job demands can lead to burnout. During times like that, you may fire off an angry email or a hostile remark during a team meeting that you regret within seconds.
You cannot turn back the clock, but a mistake -- even a big one -- does not have to spell the end of your career. Contrary to popular perception, it is possible to regain trust and confidence after having made a catastrophic blunder. Follow these five steps to spare your reputation and repair the damage.
1. Accept full responsibility.
It’s wise not to blame someone else or make excuses for your own actions. You may feel that you have numerous reasons to be legitimately angry with other people or frustrated about your circumstances. However, your choices are still your choices. Pointing fingers doesn't do anyone any good. If you are honest and own up to your mistakes right away, you will earn the respect of others.
2. Offer a sincere apology.
It may seem that the damage is already done, but others may surprise you with how quickly they will forgive your actions. Acknowledge your indiscretion without trying to justify what provoked you. Refrain from saying anything negative about anyone else. The key to an effective apology is sincerity. Most people can see through a phony or half-hearted apology and will think you are disingenuous.
3. Listen without defending.
My wise Granny Johnson used to say, “The more you stir it, the more it will stink.” When you make your apology, don’t belabor the point. Say what you have to say, then move on. If you try to justify, explain or defend yourself, you risk making the situation worse. Learn from your experience and move on. You can’t control how others react. At least you’ll know you did the right thing. If your apology is not accepted, you won’t improve the situation by getting defensive.
4. Ask what you can do.
After offering an apology, ask if there is anything you can to do make things better, then give others a chance to say what they need to say to resolve the situation. Your actions may have affected others in ways you did not realize, so listen without judgment. Do your best to remain open-minded and allow others to share their feelings.
5. Do what is necessary to make amends.
Even if you did irreversible damage (such as causing your company to lose a major account), you must salvage the situation as best you can. It may mean you spend a day, a week, or more making phone calls to individuals who were impacted by your mistake, or pay extra costs out of your own pocket. It may also require you to exhibit a degree of leadership beyond what your job has previously required of you. But if you are truly willing to commit the time and energy necessary to do what is right, no matter the personal cost, you increase your chances of salvaging your career.
Even the most successful people can’t avoid making mistakes. Every problem is an opportunity for personal growth. If you have said or done something you wish you could undo, use the situation as a powerful learning experience. Make it a turning point toward better actions and communication.
Related: The Power of an Apt Apology