What to do when you make a mistake on the job

No one likes to make mistakes. Especially on the job. Not only does it make you question your competence, it can have a huge impact on your organisation.

When you work in Comms/ PR, mistakes can come in different forms and levels. A typographical error in a newsletter, sending the wrong communication to the wrong stakeholder, or a gaffe on social media.

While some mistakes are easy to move on from, others are costly – for you and for your organisation. You’ll agree with us that mistakes are inevitable so we’re not here to tell you how to avoid making mistakes on the job. Even the most perfect professional makes mistakes. That’s why we’ve curated these important tips to help you when you make a mistake on the job.

Don’t try to bury the mistake

If you’ve made a mistake, especially a serious one, the last thing you want to do is to hide it. The first thing to do is to think about the impact the mistake can have and if there are quick ways to correct it. A mistake in a press release that has been published online can quickly be solved by calling the journalist to make a correction. The one in print cannot be so easily corrected if it has been published.

Always assess the level of the mistake and inform the necessary stakeholders. You don’t want them to be blindsided by the mistake.


See what can be salvaged

As we mentioned before, some mistakes can be quickly solved. Others may be more complex to resolve. For mistakes that have far reaching impact, for example the wrong communication sent to stakeholders, think about ways to salvage the situation. You may need to send out an apology personally to the stakeholders or that apology may need to be sent by a senior person in your organisation.

Again, when you avoid trying to bury a mistake it gives you room to think of how to salvage it and possibly turn things around.


Take responsibility

Mistakes can make us feel guilty or ashamed. The consequences attached to a mistake can also lead us to shift the blame for a mistake. “It was the graphics team.” “The journalists did not proofread before publishing.” Whatever the case may be, as long as it was within your oversight, you should acknowledge and take responsibility for the mistakes you made and those made under your watch. Apologise to the parties involved, especially to your senior team or your direct line manager.

Taking responsibility helps your team to know that you are sorry about the mistake and just maybe they will be lenient in their reaction to the mistake.


Understand what went wrong

Mistakes can be painful. You begin to wonder, “Why did this have to happen to me?” While it’s ok to ask that question, the more important question to ask is “What went wrong?”

You cannot learn from a mistake if you don’t know what went wrong. And if you do not understand what went wrong, you’re likely to repeat that mistake. Go through the sequence of events, your thought process, etc. and see the factors that led to the mistake happening.


Be clear on how to avoid the mistake next time.

When you understand how the mistake happened, you should think about how the mistake can be avoided next time.

What processes need to be put in place? Do you have to improve your proofreading skills? Was there a software failure that led to the mistake happening?

Growth comes when you can learn from your mistakes and you understand how to avoid it in the future. Not only will this allow you to do your work more efficiently, you also become more confident – as long as you don’t internalise that mistake.

Mistakes are not the end of the world. Yes, even the costly ones. The best attitude to have is to pick yourself up and learn from that mistake. And never allow any mistake to make you question your professional ability and self-worth. You didn’t fail because you made a mistake. There’s always room to do better next time.


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