How to Own Up to Your Mistakes

by Samantha Simon, Assistant Account Executive

Everyone makes mistakes in and out of the workplace. If you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking, “Well, duh.” To the duh-sayers: Your point is valid and I hear you, but do you remember making a particularly egregious mistake? One you weren’t sure how to fix? You suddenly go into a panic and lose all ability to reason (if you haven’t experienced this yet, don’t worry, it’s coming). You wish you could disappear or just walk out of the office and never come back.

Unfortunately, you can’t pull a disappearing act. What you can do is respond in a swift and graceful manner. Owning up to the mistakes we make is just as important as taking credit for our good ideas for the sake of integrity, growth and the reputation of your team. Here are five crucial steps for damage control.


1. Confess (and apologize) as soon as possible.

Your first instinct might be to pretend you never made a mistake. I’m here to tell you as much as you might want to sweep your errors under the rug, it’s a bad idea. Think about this — when it’s time to peel back the rug, that mess is still going to be there. In fact, that mess might have begun to fester and smell. What if someone pulls back the rug before you get a chance to clean it up? What if it’s an area rug? What if this analogy doesn’t make any sense?

You get the point (hopefully). Conflict doesn’t go away on its own. The faster you address the mistake, the faster everyone can move on. Plus, it makes you look humble and human. Remember that fake story about George Washington chopping down his dad’s cherry tree? He got a hug when he fessed up because his dad appreciated his honesty. You *might* get a hug for your honesty (probably not, but one can still hope)!

2. Hold yourself accountable.

Don’t make excuses or try to shift the blame. Take responsibility for your actions. You might not be fully at fault but it doesn’t show great character to drag other people’s names through the dirt. Let’s be real: No one likes a snitch.

You can however, explain your thought process, without the excuses. This allows your team to empathize with you while allowing them to give you guidance to prevent this kind of error from happening again.

3. Propose a solution.

If you can come up with a solution, do it. This is part of showing you’re accountable and even great at thinking on your feet.

If you don’t have a solution in mind, watch how the damage control is handled and jump in wherever you can. This might mean putting in extra hours or making sacrifices which you must be willing to do.

4. Accept the consequences bravely.

This might be the scariest part of admitting to a mistake but it is crucial. Keep in mind that this goes hand in hand with confessing your mistake. The quicker you own up to it, the lesser the consequence for you AND the cleanup team. Good luck.

5. Don’t dwell on your mistakes.

You know the old adage: You can’t beat yourself up over spilt milk. Okay, so that’s not the saying, but it still holds true. Your mistakes aren’t all there is to you. The most important part of any blunder is how you recover and move on. As Britney Spears says you’ll be “stronger than yesterday.”


We can’t think of mistakes as failure — otherwise we’d never try anything new. Think of them as reminders that there’s always room to improve. Consider the valuable lessons we can learn from our mistakes. If you forget to walk the dog and he has an accident on the carpet, you’re going to remember to walk the dog next time, and you’re going to be a more thoughtful pet owner. Remember: Sh*% happens, but someone’s gotta clean it up.