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Acknowledge, Address and Adjust: How to Bounce Back After a Stupid Mistake

Anyone who’s been in business for longer than a month (employee, employer or entrepreneur) has suffered through the experience of making a really stupid mistake. Perhaps you hit ‘reply to all,’ when you shouldn’t have or perhaps you said the wrong thing in a meeting causing an unforgettable moment of embarrassment. You are not alone. Many have gone through similar tribulations. What will separate you from your peers who have made similar mistakes, is your ability to bounce back. That is the key!

It isn’t about whether or not you fall, it’s about how you respond to falling. Do you stay down allowing one moment to defeat you? Do you wallow in self-pity and play the victim or do you toughen up? Do you have the ability to get the lesson out of your troubles then get up, ready for the next challenge? This is a critical skill everyone needs to have in their career success arsenal if they’re going to make it.

I’ve put together a quick 3 step guide to help you recover instantly. This is an internal process so read it over and over, reviewing the steps and absorbing each detail. Then be ready to implement each step the moment you slip and make a really silly mistake at work.

Step 1: Acknowledge

The first and most important thing you must do is own up to your mistake. You did something foolish. You screwed up. No need to sugar-coat it. There’s no avoiding it. You made a really stupid mistake that you probably could have avoided and now you need to come clean.

Your confession doesn’t have to be public. Acknowledging this to yourself is just as critical and hard to do as admitting it publicly. It’s tough, is going to require a great deal from you but you must do it. Avoidance and denial will get you absolutely nowhere here. You’re going to have to toughen up and confront your bad decision and the faulty thought process behind it, face to face. What drove you to make this decision? Where was your head? Has this happened before? Is there a pattern that needs to be broken?

Once you recognize your mistake and what led up to it, you can start the repair process and successfully bounce back.

Step 2: Address

Once you identify your slip-up, the thing that knocked you down, you can begin to mend. Think about it – did your mistake affect others around you? How? Do you need to apologize? If so, do it. Fix it. Apologize to your client, colleague(s), boss, etc. If it makes sense to fix it over the phone, then do that. If it makes more sense and is possible to apologize in-person, then do that. Invite the other party out for lunch, coffee or an afternoon walk.

Don’t avoid this step out of fear. Attempting to circumvent this step for any reason gives the impression that you don’t care about what you’ve done. It makes it seem as if you are unable to diagnose your own faults without someone else bringing them to your attention. This makes you look weak, immature and leads those around you to question your character. That is the last thing you want. Grow up! Address the matter directly and apologize.

Once you’ve apologized, forgive yourself. Whether or not those you’ve wronged pardon you, you have to absolve yourself. You can’t continue to beat yourself up about it over and over. All that does it keep you bound in a destructive cycle of self-deprecation making it impossible to rebound. Think about it – you can’t get back up if you’re always knocking yourself down.

Step 3: Adjust

Final step – adjust. Learn.

Now that you’ve admitted your mistake and made amends, you have to complete the process. If you admit your gaffe and apologize only to walk away as the same person with the same habits and though processes, you’ve wasted your time. Make the right changes so you don’t have to come face to face with the same thoughtless mistake over and over again. If you accidentally hit the ‘reply to all’ button, make it a point to slow down a bit before sending an email. Make sure that information really should be going out go to everyone attached to that email. If you said something foolish in a meeting, take steps to be more aware of what comes out of your mouth when you’re in public. Check your emotions. Often times fear and anxiety can cause you to lose control and say something you normally wouldn’t. If there’s a training course that would help – take it! Conquer your bad habits, negative thought processes and weaknesses. Learn your lesson(s) and move forward a better version of yourself.

While going through this process, the most important thing is to keep your confidence. Don’t let your blunders rob you of that. That’s the goal. To go through these trials without losing your grip. Everyone makes mistakes. They aren’t the end of the world. Remember that despite the error you made, you’re still a professional – meaning that you’re still good at what you do. You’re still an expert, you’re just an expert that’s human and that’s OK.


Hi, my name is Pamela Shand and I want the best for you in your career. I started Offer Stage Consulting to show job seekers how to overcome the most annoying challenges and get where they want to be in their careers. It is possible to actually be happy at work!

Let me show you how.

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