3 Ways To Rebound After Making A Mistake At Work


When a mistake is made, do you first chastise yourself? Do you go into a mental tailspin that haunts you for days on end? Does it begin to chip away at your self-confidence? As a manager you can be brutally hard on yourself. This is true if you are prone to taking things personally or if you are working in an organization that has a fault-finding culture. If both of these are present, everyday can feel like the inside of a pressure cooker.

Living to a standard of having the right answer or making the right decision is unattainable. In today’s fast paced business environment there are daily circumstances that test your decision-making ability. On one hand, you may be confronted with organizational challenges; lack of information, lack of time and lack of clarity around the decision-making process. On the other hand, a judgmental boss, mean-spirited culture or unrealistic expectations may undermine you.

Under these circumstances, your confidence is being taxed; therefore the weight of every decision hangs heavy on your shoulders. Left unchecked, you can spend more time ruminating on past decisions and less on the issues currently at hand. When I’m working with clients who are struggling with feeling culpable for every bad decision I pull out a few bad sports analogies to help reframe expectations. In baseball a .300 hitting percentage is considered a good year. This means more than two-thirds of the time there is failure or a “mistake” has been made. In tennis, winning a match usually means winning just over 50% of the points played.

So why in business do you hold yourself to an unrealistic standard? One reason, there is no benchmark or norm to evaluate yourself against. I used to tell people who worked for me that if you are getting more than half your initial decisions correct you’re doing well. The more impressive stat on your management is how well you recover and respond when a mistake is made.

Finding a new perspective on making mistakes can be tough if you take things personally. Start by cutting yourself some slack, rarely will you ever be in a position to make decisions with 100% certainty. When a mistake happens, interrupt your typically response, “What did I do wrong” and instead objectively ask, “What just happened and how can it be fixed”. Third, the hallmark of a proficient manager is one who is able to course correct quickly based on new information.

CEO’s frequently make mistakes and many of them have a very expensive price tag. Take Marisa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, decision to let go of her personally recruited number two after just a year on the job. This “mistake” cost about $100 million according to the press.

While you may always want to make the right decisions, what is most important is how you recover and respond.