When you mess up, fess up.
As children, many of us were told by our parents and the other adults in our lives that we would make mistakes; and when we did so the thing to do was admit them and learn from them. Unfortunately not everybody heard this advice and a few more heard it but ignored it.
It’s important that you get this message now whether from reading this first-hand or perhaps someone who cares about you will have brought this to your attention and told you to read. Either way, good thing you’re reading now.
The first thing you need to understand is that messing up and making a mistake is something we all do; even the best of us. Yes, it’s true. Now some mistakes are bigger than others, and the fallout from those mistakes varies a great deal but making errors isn’t limited to just some of us. As you mature, you learn that it’s not the mistakes made that those around us typically judge us by but how we both learn from them and take responsibility for them.
Remember when you were a little kid and you’d do something that would annoy your parents like colouring the walls with crayons. Whether you knew it was wrong or not you could tell quickly it was a bad thing when you’d hear your mom cry out, “Ah! Who’s been doodling on the walls?” Instantly your defence mechanisms would kick in and in an effort of self-preservation you’d say, “Not me!” Despite the fact you were an only child and the crayons themselves surrounded you on the floor, you’d somehow look to shift the blame to someone; anyone else. You could be forgiven for colouring where you shouldn’t but not for lying about it and attempting to ditch the responsibility.
As a growing teenager, you probably made all kinds of screw ups in what many refer to as the awkward years. Whether it was doing things you shouldn’t, or not doing things you should have, those years were full of blundering along and not always fessing up when things went wrong. The unexplained scratch on the family car, the broken window by the driveway where the hockey net sat, the muddy footprints in the hallway; all done and denied as being done by you.
Now the funny thing about mistakes is that the more we deny making them, the less it becomes about the error in the first place and the more it becomes about our inability to accept responsibility and be accountable. Being accountable is one trait that employers value highly. If you make mistakes – and you will – take responsibility for reporting it and learning from it so it’s less likely to happen again. If you fail to take responsibility for your errors, you’re a bigger problem for the employer to deal with as now they have to not only show you where you went wrong, but now they wonder about your honesty; and your character and reputation suffer as a result. In other words, you’re compounding the issue.
Here’s the thing about confessing to mistakes. If you say right up front, “That’s my fault and I’m sorry about that”, it makes it hard for others to make a big deal out of your error; you’ve taken the wind right out of their sails. They may have actually wanted you to argue about things, defend yourself until they eventual proved you wrong and won some argument, and here you’ve taken all that joy away from them by immediately apologizing. Do it really well, and anyone who lashes out at you over the initially error may later apologize to you for their reaction to your mistake!
Of course the bigger the error the harder it is for some to take responsibility. However, the bigger the mistake, the more a person’s character is revealed in how they react to their mistake and accept or decline the accountability.
Some mistakes we make are innocent ones because we truly didn’t know better. We made a decision based on the information we had at the time and it turned out to be the wrong one if we’d known about company practices, policies and procedures. Oh well, we know now. Other mistakes however are where we should have known better; in fact we did. Our moral compass screamed that what we were about to do was wrong but we did it anyway, hoping not to get caught in the process. We’re seldom that smart however, so sooner or later the mistake is noted, the search is on for the culprit and we only make things worse by initially denying any knowledge of the situation. Later, we’ll end up apologizing for both the mistake and the denial.
It may seem the harder thing to do, but the best advice you can get is to take ownership for your actions. WHEN not IF you mess up, stand up and fess up. Often you’ll gain a lot of respect from your co-workers and management for what happens after the mistake.
So whether it’s, “Who took my pen?”, “Who gave out my home number to a customer?” or “Who left the shop door unlocked last night?” be accountable for your actions. It may not always work out in your favour I admit. A boss might say they admire your honesty but they’ll have to discipline you or even let you go if it’s serious. But you’ll still have your integrity intact.