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I Made a Mistake at Work – Admit It & Advance Your Career

No one likes to make mistakes. We want to do good work and have people think well of us.

The key to maintaining your relationships and reputation, when you make a mistake, is to take responsibility and make things right as soon as possible. Saying something wasn’t your fault or becoming defensive will only damage your reputation and relationships. As counterintuitive as it sounds, you will gain respect and credibility by admitting fault and correcting problems.

I often get asked if people lose credibility by being humble – asking for feedback and admitting to making mistakes. It takes strength to ask for and be open to feedback and to admit when you drop the ball. So while it may seem counterintuitive, the more you ask for and respond to feedback, and admit when you make mistakes, the stronger you will appear.

i made a mistake at work

I made a mistake at work. Now what?

When you make a mistake say something like:

“I dropped the ball on that. I apologize. I’ll fix it and let you know when it’s been handled.”

Or, “Thank you for the feedback. This clearly didn’t go as planned. I’ll make those changes and let you know when they’re done.”

Also, let people know the steps you’ll take to avoid similar challenges in the future.

You could say something like:

“Thanks for letting me know that our process is causing your department challenges. We certainly want the process to be smooth. My team will fix this month’s report, so your team doesn’t have to invest more time. We’ll update the process for next month and walk you through the changes before the report is due.”

Don’t provide a bunch of reasons for breakdowns. No one cares. Telling people why something occurred can sound like excuse management. People just want to know things will be made right.

Asking for feedback, taking responsibility, and telling people how you will correct errors may not be your natural or first reaction. The more you can train yourself to do these things, the easier you will be to work with and the better your reputation and business relationships will be.


Click here to download free questions to find out what your coworkers and internal and external customers are satisfied with about your performance and what they wish you would do differently.


Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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2 Responses to “I Made a Mistake at Work – Admit It & Advance Your Career”

  1. Mary says:

    What should you do if the mistake that happened really wasn’t your fault? For example, what if one member of the team isn’t pulling his/her weight? How do you bring that to the boss’ attention without sounding like a whiner?

    • Shari says:

      Hi Mary, Thanks for your comment. It’s tough to work with someone who doesn’t pull his/her weight.

      Have you talked to the person directly? This can be hard to do, but if you go to your boss before doing so, she may ask whether or not you’ve already spoken with your coworker. If you do decide to talk to your coworker, consider saying something like, “I’ve noticed that _____ and _____ hasn’t been getting done. This makes it hard for me to __________. What’s happening?” Then you wait and give the other person a chance to respond. Focus on just the facts. No judgment. Avoid words like, “you’re not a team player” or “you’re not pulling your weight.” Both of those phrases are judgments and will generate a defensive response. Instead say: “This isn’t getting done. Here is the impact on me/the organization. What do you think?” Based on what the person says, you could reply with, “I know everyone is really busy. I appreciate that you’re going to pay closer attention to this project. I’ll reach out to you if we fall behind again. What’s the best way to let you know? Email, voice mail, or just swing by your office?”

      If you do want to go to your boss, considering saying something like, “I wanted to let you know that Joe hasn’t been doing _______. This is the impact it’s having on me: ___________. Here’s what I’ve already done: _________. I hesitated in bringing this to you, because I don’t want to appear to be a whiner. What can we do?”

      I hope that helps. Post another comment if you want to ‘talk’ more about it!



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