woman talking to the employee and assessing the severity of the mistake made

6As to Handle Mistakes at Work Effectively

Mistakes – these are what you want to avoid at your workplace. They are not uncommon. As you strive to execute the best version of a task, mistakes sometimes do occur. 


Everyone, including business leaders, makes mistakes. However, as Henry Ford says, The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.


A group of employee discussing in a meeting


As an employee, it is necessary to understand the cause of your mistake at work. Whilst it serves as a learning opportunity for yourself, from the businesses’ perspective, a mistake may impact the efficiency and speed a task is completed. If the mistake made is huge, it may impact the businesses’ reputation or cause a financial loss.


When you find a mistake, follow these 6As and you have just turned the mistake into the best life lesson. To summarise, these are the 6As: 

    1. Acknowledge
    2. Allow
    3. Assess
    4. Act
    5. Apologise
    6. Analyse



6As to Handle Mistakes at Work Effectively

1. Acknowledge

First things first, accept that you have made a mistake and own it. Take a deep breath, do not panic, and remain calm. Avoid pointing the finger at others for the mistake. 


woman deep in thoughts and worrying about mistakes


It is a bigger mistake if you sweep it under the carpet! By recognising the mistake, you will be seen as a great leader and be respected by your colleagues. Remind yourself that it is okay. Do not be afraid to be vulnerable. Like what Brené Brown shared, vulnerability is strength. 


2. Allow

Allow yourself to be frustrated and upset. After all, we are all humans. Tell yourself, “It is okay”.


Take a break to acknowledge the frustration or disappointment with yourself or your team. However, please do not allow yourself to be in an upset situation for too long. If you are in the situation for more than 10 minutes, take a step back and do what you enjoy doing.


man taking a break in a field from work and not thinking about his mistakes


Get up from your seat and pop by your chatty co-worker’s work desk for a casual chat or take a walk to the office pantry to get a cup of tea. Alternatively, stay in your seat and browse your favourite website on your personal device for a mental escape.


If you are working from home, go for a run in the neighbourhood, bake yourself a cake, or watch a short YouTube video. Anything, really!


3. Assess

Now, you are back in the right frame of mind. Put your thinking cap on and get cracking with assessing the severity of the mistake made. Listen to yourself and do what makes sense. Try to dig deep and identify the root cause of the mistake, rather than the symptom. 


woman talking to the employee and assessing the severity of the mistake made


These are some questions that you could quiz yourself: 

    • What was the mistake? 
    • Why did the mistake occur? 
    • How was the mistake identified – by myself or someone else? 
    • Who should know about the mistake? 
    • What is the consequence of it?
    • What is the worst that can happen? 


As you put together your responses to the questions above, do not downsize the error. It helps you understand the impact of the mistake and enables you to create the right game plan. 


4. Act

With the game plan written down, now, take action. Make amendments to the mistake and communicate this mistake to the individuals involved.


The severity of the mistake may dictate the actions. If it is a minor error in the report shared with the team, you may highlight the error in the report and resend the report to the team.


woman writing down her actions to improve at work


However, if the mistake has a large consequence, consider setting up a 10-minute conversation to allow yourself to share practical follow-up actions and are agreed upon by the individuals involved. Provide them some time to think through before they respond to you, either verbally or in an email.


I reckon this is the most important step as this will help earn back their trust. However, be mindful of who this error is communicated to.


5. Apologise

“I’m sorry” may be hard to say. Nonetheless, these two words are powerful. 


woman apologising to another female co-worker


You could either apologise in person or via email. Remember, KISS. It is an acronym for Keep it Short and Simple. Sometimes, if it is a very minor mistake, your colleagues may have not remembered it. 


If your earlier assessment had indicated a serious consequence, such as a huge financial loss or reputation, I would recommend setting up a meeting with the individuals involved. Explain concisely that you are aware of the error and inform them that you take responsibility for the mistake.


6. Analyse

As you are on this step, breathe a sigh of relief. You have done the hard work to rectify the mistake made. Look through the mistake. Take some time to think about the mistake. This will enable you to learn from it and prevent you from repeating it in the future.


girl contemplating and analysing what she could do


Here are some reflection questions that you may ask yourself: 

    • What led to the mistake? Was it due to self-carelessness, a new work process incorporated into the system, or a new tool was used when presenting your work? 
    • Are there any safeguards you can put in place to prevent this mistake from occurring in the future? 
    • Is there something that you can do differently the next time? 


After you identified the lessons learned, remember the lessons, forget the mistake. You may be overly careful the next time you perform the task but do not self-doubt yourself. 



And, there you go! The 6As on how to handle mistakes at work. Acknowledge the mistake, allow yourself to feel upset, assess and act on your mistake, apologise to your boss or team, and finally, analyse your mistake. When you handle mistakes well, they are life’s best teachers.


To further read up on improving your workplace skills, check out this article 5 Things To Practice to Strengthen Your Workplace Communication Skills.

An experiential learner and a constant adventure seeker, Joyce is constantly on her feet to go, explore and discover. She enjoys sharing her two cents on her ventures and hopes it enables you to learn a thing or two.

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