How to handle embarrassing mistakes in the workplace

Everyone has made a mistake at work. After all, we are all human and are therefore beautifully imperfect. Keep this in mind the next time you send an email to the wrong person, or spill a cup of coffee, or overbook clients. Fortunately, most of us do not have careers where there could be make or break situations at work, so mistakes are generally minor faux pas. But for some of us, an embarrassing mistake at work can feel like the end of the world and that we will never live it down. It doesn’t have to be that way. Keep reading to find out some proven strategies that can help to get through in these unfortunate situations.


Own it

One of the worst things to do is to try and pass the blame or make an excuse. This will only irritate colleagues and leave a bad taste in their mouths. We could become known as untrustworthy or too proud. This is the time to put our pride in our pockets. Own the mistake. Admit to the fault and make a sincere apology to the person or people involved without using the word “but” in the apology. The word “but” implies that we are shifting the blame off of ourselves and the apology is no longer genuine. One apology is enough, there is no need to continually rake ourselves over the coals for the mistake. Owning up and apologizing sincerely shows good character to colleagues. This is something they will remember.

Make it right

Along with a sincere apology should come the want to fix our mistakes. Although this might not always be possible, 95 percent of the time it probably is. Be the first to run for the tissues if the coffee is spilled or take the initiative to rebook the overbooked clients. If someone has been offended, offer to take them out to lunch to talk things over. There is always a way to rectify the situation.

Let it go

This might just be the most difficult step. Gaining forgiveness from others can be easier than forgiving ourselves. But a mistake is not the end of the world and everyone messes up. Don’t fall into a trap of self-deprecation. It’s easy to slip into and can quickly form into an unhealthy habit. We have to learn to let the mistake go and keep loving ourselves. So we messed up, so what? We apologized, we made it right, it’s over, time to move on.


Learn from it

Nothing says “I’ve learned my lesson” quite like being able to learn from a mistake. Sending an email to the wrong person should leave us always double-checking the recipient list. Overbooking clients should leave us diarising all future appointments to make sure that a double booking never happens again. Mistakes should teach us a lesson. Not learning from them and making the same mistakes on a regular basis will render the initial apology null and void

No matter how big or small the accident is, in time, everything blows over. Tomorrow we will feel better than today. Although we could hide under a rock when it happens, after a while we should be able to laugh about it. Nine times out of ten, within a couple of weeks, our colleagues won’t even remember what happened anyway.