You made a mistake—now what?
By Nancy Barry
Author of When Reality Hits: What Employers Want Recent College Graduates to Know
We all make mistakes. That’s how we learn. When you make one, learn from it, and move on. It’s important to remember you are human. You’re going to make mistakes, and the people you work with are going to make them, too. The key is accepting responsibility for your actions. There are a lot of people out there who play “the blame game.” It’s always someone else’s fault.
Many years ago, one of my bosses taught me a valuable lesson. He said, “Nancy, if you ever make a mistake and tick someone off, just say these words: ‘I take complete responsibility.’ If you say those words, it completely disarms the other person. There’s really nothing else for them to say.”
Those words of wisdom came in handy one day when I made one of my big, big bosses mad. Really, really mad. I made a decision he didn’t agree with. We were on the phone, and he was doing all the talking (yelling). I didn’t say a word. When he finally stopped yelling, I said, “I take complete responsibility.” That was the end of the conversation. He hesitated, then said, “OK,” and hung up.
To this day, I believe the decision I made was a good one, but it didn’t matter. He was my boss, and it was my responsibility to do what he thought was best. In addition to taking responsibility for your actions, you could add something like, “In retrospect, I should have handled this differently. I’ve learned a valuable lesson, and it won’t happen again.”
If you make a mistake, people expect you to have an excuse or try to blame it on someone else. Surprise them—take complete responsibility. At that moment, you have earned the respect of the other person.
Recent College Graduate Expert, Campus Calm