wikiHow to Tell Your Boss You've Made a Major Mistake

Three Parts:Admitting Your MistakeCorrecting an ErrorMinimizing Future Mistakes

An error, mistake, blooper, blunder, or slip-up. Call it what you like, if you make a major mistake at work, you have to tell your boss right away. A work mistake is not something that can be buried or overlooked, especially when it affects your company or organization’s bottom line, reputation, or daily operations. Being open, honest and helpful about fixing the situation will lead to higher chances of resolving it quickly. Plus, taking this route may even keep you from losing your position.

Part 1
Admitting Your Mistake

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    Figure out the magnitude of the problem. Take the time to figure out the potential fallout of your mistake. This will not only get you closer to fixing it, but it also shows your boss that you really care about your work.[1]
    • Things to consider when looking at the possible fallout would include whether the mistake puts others in physical danger so it is truly an emergency or other situations that need to be addressed immediately to avoid potential crisis situations. Giving a patient the wrong meds is an example of something that needs immediate attention because the window to avoid possible life-threatening danger is small.
    • Another possible form of fallout from a mistake can be bad press or a negative reaction to the company based on the mistake. This might happen if an email went out to the full database instead of just one person about a sensitive matter. Be aware that this type of mistake can mean many more people having to deal with the problem and even some sort of formal corporate statement about the error.
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    Pull your boss aside for a one-on-one, immediately. Be clear that the situation needs immediate attention. Make sure to give your boss a heads up, if there is something that needs to be done immediately to stop further damage.
    • Get your boss' attention by saying something like "Excuse me, sir. I need to talk to you about an urgent matter. Can I speak with you in private?"
    • Stay calm and make sure your boss understands your need for an immediate conversation. This is not the time to get upset since your first focus is anything that needs to be fixed sooner rather than later. Also, telling your boss early enough so that he or she hears it from you first will help to rebuild trust for the future.[2]
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    Explain the mistake. Now, that you've got his or her attention, your boss needs to know more. Explain what happened, who may be hurt by the mistake and action that needs to take place in the moment if there is anything that can fix it right away. This is not the time to place blame or give excuses, focus on fixing the situation first.
    • Admit that you made a mistake by getting straight to the point. Say something like "I made a mistake. I accidentally emailed the entire client list."
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    Take full responsibility of your mistake. Refrain from assigning blame. It may be tempting to include anyone else whose oversight contributed to the problem. Don’t. Throwing others under the bus to make yourself look better won’t win any favors with your superiors.
    • The most effective way to take responsibility is to, firstly, admit the mistake and then apologize. Be sincere without making excuses. Be humble and to the point. “I know you were counting on me, I’m very sorry I let you down. I will do whatever is necessary to rectify the situation.”
    • Getting defensive by trying to blame someone else will almost always end up with a bad reaction from your boss and probably the person you threw under the bus. Nothing positive will come out of this type of behavior.
    • It is sometimes a knee-jerk reaction to try to cover up a situation, but again being honest and to the point is a much better choice. You do not want to add lying to the list of mistakes. If it was an honest mistake, stand firm that honesty is the best way to go forward.[3]
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    Accept the consequences. You might handle the situation with the utmost of professionalism, but there still may be a negative outcome. Depending on the scale of your mistake, you might receive a warning, be placed on probation, or even terminated.[4]
    • Regardless of the consequences, handling them with a professional attitude will only help you in the long run. Even if you are terminated, you do not need to make the situation worse by reacting negatively or even violently.
    • Keep in mind any negative reaction is only going to make the situation worse. Getting fired from one job can harm your future chances of employment, if you act out in a way that leads to the involvement of police or lawyers.

Part 2
Correcting an Error

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    Take the lead on sorting out the problem. It’s your mistake and your responsibility. Therefore, you should also be wholly involved in resolving the issue. While taking the lead on fixing things would be the best case scenario, keep in mind that your boss may not allow this. Be flexible and agreeable if the boss wants you to work with others or is skeptical about you handling it alone.
    • Stay positive even if you are getting negative feedback from around you. There was a mistake made and co-workers may comment about it, but your focus should be on making things right, not the drama around the office.[5]
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    Formulate a plan with your boss’s help. Ask your boss for direction and do as you are told. This is a time to show you can take a bad situation and make it better—it may not be the most appropriate time to try to wing it.[6]
    • Taking criticism may be a part of this process. Remain open to suggestions and show your team you are truly sorry for what happened. Work to not only fix the current problem, but also to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
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    Offer to work over-time to fix your mistake. In order to rebuild your boss’s trust and rectify the problem, you must strive to go above and beyond what’s required. Be genuine in any offer you make. It is going to take time and effort to fix the mistake, depending how big of a mistake was made. Since you were the reason it happened, it makes sense that you would have to devote extra resources to seeing the problem resolved.[7]
    • Take the time to thank anyone else affected by the mistake who is now part of the solution. These people are having to do extra work to correct an error you made. Be sure to show that you respect and appreciate their efforts.
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    Volunteer to call any clients or leaders who need to be updated about the problem. This is a positive step for anyone who has a boss that now is under fire for the mistake. This in a small way shows you are willing to take responsibility and make those tough phone calls.[8]

Part 3
Minimizing Future Mistakes

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    Document lessons learned. Use your past mistakes as teaching moments for the future. Show your boss your ability to improve by documenting the mistake and any insights you learned as a result. This is helpful for you in terms of preventing similar errors to come, and also helps demonstrate progress when you come up for evaluation at work.[9]
    • Many times an error paves the way for innovation. Share an idea with your boss about a way you intend on changing your approach, so these types of errors don’t happen again. Any major changes will usually require agreement from your boss. However, brainstorming new approaches at least shows initiative.
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    Avoid multi-tasking. Take special care to manage your tasks. This way, you have the time to focus on completing them one at time so you are not risking making needless mistakes.
    • Take this mistake as a chance to look at other things you may need to change about your work habits. You might need to clean up your desk to avoid losing important papers or find a better way to manage emails to avoid using the wrong email list.[10]
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    Ask for help when you don’t know how to do something. Getting clarification can save you time in the long run since you won’t need to re-do things later. Don’t feel like you are bothering someone by asking for help. If you are polite and considerate in your requests, others are likely to enjoy offering a helping hand. Pay attention and learn from those around you.
    • Ask for specific and hands-on instruction so you can figure out what you were missing before and move on. Often, it is one step you have missed in the process or something small that makes a big difference.
    • Show your appreciation for the help and be sure to implement the strategies you’ve learned. Actually putting new skills into play shows that you have gratitude and makes others more likely to help if you should need to ask again.
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    Slow down. If you feel like you never have enough time in the day while at work, imagine how much worse it could be if you need to fix another big mess. Start a to-do list and learn to manage your time better so you are not rushing through tasks and overlooking important steps.
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    Don’t be hard on yourself. Beating yourself up can actually make the problem worse. Everyone makes mistakes—even your boss, at some point. Practice self-forgiveness and be sure that you learned from the issue so that it doesn’t happen again.[11]

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Categories: Interacting with Bosses