As much as we'd like everything in our professional lives to be plain sailing, curveballs and challenges can and will happen - and it's how you deal with them that counts. You will make (I say this because it is inevitable - we will all mess up) a disastrous mistake and feel as if your career is on a complete downward spiral and your professional reputation is shot. But, that doesn't have to be end result. Instead of allowing negativity to dominate, if you handle a work mess up with grace, you may even find that you come out of the other side looking even better than before. No matter what's happened getting back to your A-game quickly and resuming normal service is key - both for your self-confidence, and for your career. But how exactly do you get back on track when you know you've messed up in a major way?
Dress Up, Show Up
If you've made a big faux pas or a glaring error, it can feel very tempting just to hide away - perhaps take some annual leave to let everything die down. But in fact, that is the worst thing you could do. By hiding away, you're showing clients, colleagues or even your superiors that you don't have what it takes to own up to your failing and take the actions necessary to correct the situation as best you can. Learning emotional resilience is something that can be done, with practice. The best thing to do is to show up the next day, rocking a brand new business wardrobe and looking confident and ready to face the world. Be proactive and reappear with a list of solutions, apologize if you need to and say what you've worked out to address the problem. This is likely to give you a reputation for being a tough cookie who can handle setbacks or correct their mistakes in a dignified manner. You may even be able to spin the incident into a positive if you handle it especially well. Besides, the more you try and bury your head in the sand, the harder it's going to be when you do eventually have to face the music. Turn up looking sharp with a great attitude, and people are likely to be far more forgiving.
Learn From What's Happened - But Don't Wallow
The list of things that can go wrong in your professional life is scarily huge. From being put up for a promotion but completely messing up the interview, failing to land a key account, or mistakenly approving something that you shouldn't have, it's highly unlikely you'll have a working life completely free of controversy and mishaps. Spend a little time thinking about what you can do to prevent a recurrence. It could be deciding not to do accounting late at night when you're tired and are more likely to make a mistake with the numbers. It may be learning and practicing some interview skills before going for the next opportunity. It could even be grabbing a new skill set from an online coding course, a social media class or taking some CPR certification classes near you so that you can help next time there is an accident. Looking into what you can do differently is a positive move which may help you deal with the incident mentally. And although it's okay to allow yourself an afternoon of feeling bad and sorry for yourself, resist the temptation to wallow. Negative situations happen to absolutely everyone, so if you've addressed the cause don't continue to beat yourself up - it's not productive and it won't help you turn the situation into a learning opportunity.
Get Back To Basics
Often, mistakes occur when we are trying to juggle too many competing priorities at once. You take your mind off the task at hand, and things begin to go wrong - this is something that entrepreneurs are especially prone to, as they are forced to cover a lot of ground. It may seem counter-intuitive, but make a commitment to say no to multi-tasking. The new business trend of mono-tasking is supported by lots of research that shows people who focus on a single job at a time are actually more productive, get through tasks quicker and make less mistakes than those trying to manage two or three at once. You may have told yourself you don't have enough time to tackle one job at a time, but do you have time not to?
Make a prioritization matrix to show you exactly what you need to concentrate on, in what order. Get rid of outside distractions by turning off email notifications and setting your phone to airplane mode. Have at least an hour of power in the morning where you can give solid focus to one larger or more creative task, and save all the chasing people up and replying to emails for later on the in day when your concentration is naturally waning. Simplifying and delegating what you can isn't shirking responsibility - it's preserving your energy for the most strategically important areas where your input can have the most impact. With a bit of perseverance, you'll be back on your feet in no time.
Tell us in the comments your best ways to get back on track after a work blunder! We want to learn from each other!
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M.E.L. is an attorney and small business entrepreneur whose mission is to help professionals conquer the workaday world with style and poise.
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