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Stop apologizing at work. How not to always say ‘I’m sorry’

Saying 'I'm sorry' at work: How to apologize after a mistake

There are many famous quotes on the topic of failure and how it's actually a good thing. But when you make a big mistake at work, it's hard to find the positive in such a negative situation. And reciting famous quotes about failure to your boss is probably not the best way to make amends. So, how do you say "I'm sorry" when you've screwed up an aspect of your job? And how can you earn back the trust of your boss and your co-workers after a mistake at work? Here are some tips.

Allow yourself to feel your emotions

Making mistakes at work happens, and it's okay to feel disappointed afterward. Let yourself feel your emotions and be upset if you need to. This will help you process the situation and calm down so you can create an action plan for how to proceed. If you're feeling embarrassed, anxious, or frustrated after making a mistake, take some time to let your emotions out by taking a walk outside, journaling in a notebook, or talking about it with someone you trust, such as a friend or therapist. 

Have perspective about the significance of the mistake

One of the most important things to do when you make a mistake at work is to keep the situation in perspective. By evaluating how significant the mistake is and which solutions will help you fix it most effectively, you can prevent yourself from becoming too upset and ensure you correct the mistake properly. 

For example, if you make a spelling error in an email and notice it after you've sent it, consider what will actually result from the error. This may help you calm yourself down and recognize that the mistake isn't something to panic over — rather, it's a simple error that you can fix easily moving forward.

Consider the worst-case scenario and let it go

Once you feel secure in understanding the context and impact of your mistake, allow yourself to think about the worst-case scenario that might result from it. Once you have that idea in mind, remind yourself how unlikely it is that the worst possible reaction will occur. This can help ease your mind and emphasize how your mistake is fixable and why it doesn't need to ruin your day. 

For instance, if you're late to work, and the worst-case scenario is being fired, think about how many steps there are between being late and being dismissed. You'll likely remember policies about warnings or grace periods, helping you mitigate your panic.

"By evaluating how significant the mistake is and which responses will help you fix it most effectively, you can prevent yourself from becoming too upset and ensure you correct the mistake properly."

Apologize directly and concisely

Once you take time to process the situation and your emotions, it's time to apologize. It's up to you whether you apologize in person or send an email or direct message, so consider which method of communication is the quickest and most reliable in your workplace.

Saying, "I messed up" at work doesn't need to be a complicated or lengthy process, as it's likely the person you're apologizing to understands what happened and may have even already thought of a solution. All you need to do is say you're sorry and iterate that you're working on correcting the mistake and won't do it again. 

Develop a strategy for next time

To ensure you don't make the same mistake twice, create a plan for approaching the same scenario in the future. This will help you identify what you can do differently to produce the desired outcome. For instance, if you miss a deadline due to procrastinating, create a schedule for your next project that involves checking in on progress regularly to ensure you meet the objectives needed to finish the task on time.

Perform some self-care

After you've apologized and thought about what you can do better next time, take care of yourself. There are several common causes for mistakes at work, such as employee burnout, exhaustion, and poor mental health. Give yourself some extra pampering to address any issues that may be affecting your work, ensuring you get enough sleep, food, and downtime.

Show you're still trustworthy through your actions

Perhaps the best way to recover after making a mistake at work and saying sorry is to earn back the trust of your boss and co-workers. Actions speak louder than words, so you can gain their confidence back by continuing to produce high-quality and thoughtful work. Even if your mistake happens publicly, you can move past it by reminding everyone around you what an asset you are to the team.

When you've made a mistake at work, use these steps to handle the situation professionally and positively. This will help you build strong work relationships and show your co-workers that they can still trust you to succeed in your job. There's always room for improvement in the workplace, and you can make great strides in improving yourself by knowing how to say sorry at work effectively.

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