Only four letter words come to mind once you realize you’ve made a mistake at work.
Then, following the profanity comes panic.
How do you tell you boss? Will there be professional repercussions? What are the real-world consequences to the firm? Are you solely accountable? You’re in hot water now…
According to a recent poll of 4,000 businessmen and women, an overwhelming 92 percent of surveyed professionals admitted they take ownership and set errors right in the event a mistake was made at work, reports Julie Shenkman for Beyond.com.
Unfortunately for law firms, however, that leaves a not-so-insignificant 8 percent of professionals who cover up mistakes, deny responsibility, or even blame errors on somebody else.
Mistakes happen. We’ve all made them. But now that it’s your turn, you don’t know quite what to do.
One thing’s for sure, if you want to go from bad to worse, consider doing the following:
1. Deny, deny, deny. Your boss walks into the office and questions your numbers. Instead of admitting—right then and there—that you may have made a mistake and need to crunch them again, you decide to remain steadfast.
When that doesn’t work, you claim another associate was responsible for the project. Finally, when the powers-that-be are still suspicious, you correct the numbers secretly, pretending your boss must have had an old copy.
Although you may actually get away with this maneuver, intelligent minds will suspect—if not fully believe—that you were dishonest. Lawyers should know by now that being sneaky is a tough and terrible game to play, one that almost never holds up in court (or the office).
Counter-intuitively, admitting you made a mistake to your boss now will convince him or her that your work product will be more careful and correct in the future.
2. Make excuses. All right, you made a mistake. Didn’t we decide that every man is fallible? What’s the big deal?
An error in the legal world can make or break the credibility of a witness or a firm. Mistakes are a big deal. Owning up to them does not translate into shirking responsibility or creating excuses.
Downplaying the significance of the error to your boss will only increase the probability he’ll be really, really mad. Becoming defensive, ironically, leads to more conflict among coworkers.
Be sincere in your apology and active in your strategy to correct it.
3. Wait too long to confess. You came up with a strategic plan to correct your error. However, you waited too long to concoct it. Now, it’s impossible to right your wrong and your boss is furious.
Legal services are time sensitive, so it’s important to inform your boss immediately when a mistake has been made.
Nevertheless, do approach your boss with a few, quick solutions that you can discuss and review together. Plus, they say that two brains are better than one.
4. Over-react. Often, when a person makes a mistake at work, they turn into a tyrant, ordering around their subordinate associates in a desperate attempt to right the wrong.
Don’t over-react. Mistakes don’t have to cost the firm or your reputation a dime if dealt with in a timely, well thought-out manner.
But, if you become emotional or frenzied, your fellow professionals will start to question your ability to handle the stress and pressure inevitable with the job. You’ll also put what could have been a subtle situation suddenly on the radar of everybody around you.
Why alert the troops of failure when they’re safe and naively unaware in their foxholes? Learn to work under fire with grace and composure.
5. Don’t plan for the future. They say not to dwell on the past. This is not one of those times.
It is important to decipher why the mistake in question was made for your own professional development, and it is equally important that you make your boss aware of the steps taken to ensure it never happens again.
What could you have done to prevent the aforementioned error? Was it a matter of proofreading? Could you have asked a third-party for help? Were you under-qualified for the task at-hand but afraid to admit it? Is it a time management issue?
Answer these questions and then come up with a plan for improvement. Past mistakes won’t break your confidence if you move forward with adequate and substantial future planning.
So, try not to make a bad situation worse. And, if in doubt, ask yourself, “What would a Boy Scout do?”