How to Own Up to Your Mistakes at Work in 8 Simple Steps

Updated November 28, 2022

Making mistakes is a part of any career and industry, no matter how much experience you have. You can turn these mistakes into learning opportunities to become a better employee. Learning more about how to be accountable so you can own up to these mistakes can help you improve your professional image and strengthen your relationships at work. In this article, we explain what it means to own up to your mistakes, offer steps you can follow to do this, review why it's important to do so, and discuss tips for being accountable at work.

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What does it mean to own up to your mistakes?

To own up to your mistakes means you admit that you did something wrong at work, typically to a colleague or manager. For example, you might forget to submit a report by its deadline but e-mail your manager with an apology and the report as soon as you realized it. Owning up to your mistakes shows your team you're professional, trustworthy, and willing to learn from your errors.

Related: Guide on How to Learn from Mistakes (Importance and Tips)

How to own up to your mistakes

Here are the steps you can follow to own up to your mistakes so you can become a more powerful employee:

1. Analyze the mistake

Start by analyzing the mistake you made so you can brainstorm possible solutions. This can help you resolve the issue before you even talk to your manager or colleague about it, showing that you can take the initiative to solve and admit to your mistakes. If you need help resolving the issue, determine who the best person to talk to is so you can schedule a meeting with them. Once you have a possible solution, create a clear description of what happened and what you plan to do to resolve it so you can update your manager.

Related: How to Problem-Solve in the Workplace

2. Keep the situation in perspective

When analyzing your mistake, it's important to keep the situation in perspective. You may be embarrassed that you made a mistake, but it's a natural part of working. Try to process your emotions before talking to your manager and admitting your mistake so you can resolve the issue in a professional manner.

3. Schedule a meeting with your manager

Once you're ready to talk, schedule a private meeting with your manager to admit to your mistake. Having one-on-one time with your manager allows you to discuss the situation in detail so they clearly understand what happened and what you plan to do to fix it. Ensure you schedule this meeting before your manager discovers the mistakes themselves. If they learn about your mistake and notice you didn't acknowledge it yet, they may think you're not trustworthy. During the meeting, your manager may decide on a repercussion, depending on the severity of your mistake.

Related: How to Plan a Meeting with a Detailed Step-by-Step Process

4. Be honest and take accountability

When talking to your manager, it's important to be honest and take accountability for your mistake. Explain the mistake, tell your manager you understand it was your fault, apologize for it, and describe how you plan to resolve the issue quickly to minimize the impact it has on the company. Taking accountability by owning up to your mistakes shows your manager you're responsible and have integrity. This can help you continue to have a strong, trusting relationship.

Related: What Is Leadership Accountability and How to Be Accountable

5. Apologize to the parties involved

After talking to your manager, there may be other people you can talk to about your mistakes. If your colleagues were impacted by your error, approach them and apologize for the inconvenience. Explain how you plan to resolve the issue so it doesn't continue to affect their work. This shows them you're taking accountability for your mistakes and respect the collaborative work environment.

Try not to apologize too much, though, as it may undermine their confidence in your ability to resolve the issue. You can even express your gratitude to your colleagues rather than apologize. For example, you can say, "Thank you for your understanding," or, "Thank you for your support while I fix this mistake."

Related: How to Apologize for a Mistake Professionally (With Tips)

6. Fix the mistake

If you haven't had the opportunity yet, you can fix your mistake after owning up to it. Taking action shows your manager you're serious about what you discussed. If you're able to resolve the issue independently, it may even impress your manager.

7. Learn from your mistakes

Once you fix your mistake, determine what you learned from the situation. This ensures you can progress by avoiding similar mistakes in the future. To do this, you can note the causes of your mistake to determine ways to avoid them. For example, if you missed a deadline because you forgot about it, you can start scheduling notifications to remind you about upcoming deadlines. Use your mistake as a learning experience to help you develop new knowledge and skills.

Related: How to Learn from Failure (With Benefits and Tips)

8. Earn trust back

Depending on how severe your mistake was, your manager or team may not trust you or rely on you as much, even after owning up to your mistake. It's important to repair your professional relationships so you can still work together effectively. Your manager may be watching you more carefully after your mistake, so ensure you complete all your tasks well and on time to impress them.

Related: How to Build Trust at Work and Improve Team Cohesion

Why is owning up to your mistakes important?

Owning up to your mistakes and learning from them is important for the following reasons:

  • Strengthens professional relationships: While making a mistake can cause people to lose some trust in you, owning up to it can help you develop this trust again. Owning up to your mistakes shows your colleagues and manager you're still reliable and trustworthy.

  • Demonstrates integrity: Integrity is when you can be honest and adhere to your moral principles, which is important for employees in any career. Owning up to your mistakes shows your manager you have integrity that you apply to your everyday work.

  • **Develops new skills:** Owning up to your mistakes and learning from them can help you learn new skills, like problem-solving or communication. You can use these skills to avoid making similar mistakes in the future.

  • Improves confidence: Although you may not feel as confident after you make a mistake, owning up to it can be good for your self-esteem. Admitting your mistake and resolving it can make you more independent, so you can feel confident in your abilities going forward.

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Tips for owning up to your mistakes effectively

Here are some additional tips to consider to help you admit to your mistakes and empower yourself:

Do not divert blame

When admitting a mistake, it's important that you accept it was your fault. Even if someone else was involved, it's their responsibility to admit to their contribution as well. Don't place blame on them yourself. Instead, just explain your part and discuss your resolution.

Ask for feedback

When talking to your manager about your error, ask for feedback you can apply to your work or professional development. They may suggest additional ways you can learn from your mistake to ensure it doesn't happen again. You can also ask your colleagues for feedback, as they may have made similar mistakes in the past. They can reassure you that everyone makes mistakes at some point in their career and discuss how they resolved similar issues.

Listen attentively

When admitting your mistake to your manager, ensure you listen attentively to their feedback. This ensures you can address their expectations going forward so they still see you as a strong employee. Taking notes during your meeting may even be beneficial, as it shows your manager you value their opinion.

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