How To Handle A Mistake At Work In A Healthy Way

To err is human, so it's perfectly normal to make mistakes in both our professional and personal life. What counts most, in the end, is that we can draw valuable lessons from our accidental oversights. However, it's easier said than done.

A normal reaction that ensues every perceived wrongdoing is a sense of guilt and shame. For instance, you lose your appetite and your sleep after your supervisor pointed out a mistake that you made that affected your team's overall performance. For the entire week that follows the unfortunate incident, you avoid talking to your co-workers because you think you've failed them and they're no longer looking at you the same way.

Feeling a sense of regret and responsibility can be a reflection of your maturity level and help you improve your behaviors, according to a 2017 study in the journal Motivation and Emotion. If you're not careful, however, your sustained sense of guilt can take root in your mind. This long-drawn-out sense of guilt, per PsychCentral, can become chronic and drive you to assume unreasonable responsibility for everything that goes wrong. If you can't stop beating yourself up over your past mistake, you'll have a hard time focusing your energy on future projects.

Whether the mistake is of your own making or misplaced, here's how you can feel better when it feels bad.

Own up to your mistake and take it in your stride

After realizing that you've made a mistake, you should address the issue head-on and try to fix it. Since actions mitigate regrets, make sure to extend apologies where apologies are due. This is especially important if you're in a leadership position and your mistake is of major consequence, according to the Harvard Business Review.

If those impacted have forgiven you, you should stop carrying guilt in your heart. Nobody learns and gets better at their craft without making a few slip-ups. In the grand scheme of things, a blunder is an opportunity to improve your situational awareness.

If you receive criticisms rather than words of reassurance, take them into stride. It's OK to feel panicky when facing negative reactions from your co-workers. We, humans, are wired to care about what others think of us. Having said that, we tend to let our imagination run wild and blow other people's opinions out of proportion, per a 2001 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

If you're afraid your co-workers will "cancel" you, ask yourself if you've done everything in your power to set things right. If you have, there's nothing else you can do but move on and so should the people you work with. As Tom Clancy puts it, "Fix your eyes forward on what you can do, not back on what you cannot change." It takes time to rebuild trust and erase bias, so try to be patient.

Be kind to yourself in the face of mistakes

You can feel sad, ashamed, and disappointed in yourself or other people for all the guilt-induced stress you're under — but not for too long. When all is said and done, ask yourself this question after a night of beating yourself up as an atonement: Is your mistake the end of the world?

Even if you get sacked, which is probably the worst-case scenario, it's far from the end of the world. The last thing you probably want to fall prey to is a sense of inadequacy, which will make it increasingly harder for you to find your purpose and live up to your full potential, per GoodTherapy.

Plus, a prolonged sense of guilt can lead to post-traumatic stress disorders and enhance the risks of other mental health issues, as noted in a 2014 study in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology. Therefore, ask yourself if this one mistake is worth your chance of leading a healthy life before you continue blaming yourself.

In case you have followed all the aforementioned steps and still are struggling with guilt, you should have an honest chat with your team. If there's anyone who can make you feel less judged, give spot-on advice, and help you bounce back from your gaffe, it's the people you work with. Everyone has had at least a bad day at work, so you're not alone. Refrain from comparing yourself with other people and focus entirely on your individual growth. A setback, if addressed properly, can become a setup for a great comeback.