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What to do when you fail at work

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

Failure doesn't have to mean the world has ended. But, for some of us, it certainly feels that way. Here are my 4 tips below on how to deal with a mistake.

I am a self proclaimed perfectionist. I hate doing anything wrong. I still remember mistakes I made a decade ago as if they were yesterday. This is why I empathise so deeply with coaching clients who come to me with huge failures.

There is nothing worse than being in a slump at work, where whatever you touch seems to turn to garbage. Your superior is on you for something you messed up and your confidence has taken a huge hit. So what can you do to get over failure? Do one of these five things:

1. Own it

This is the most important action for your team to see you do. If you hide behind excuses, or worse, other colleagues, you will come off as weak and disloyal. When admitting a mistake, do it face to face. If you are in different offices, call them or video chat to fess up. You will seem proactive and honest in your handling of it. Do not do it by email. Not only will you make yourself look frightened, you never know how an email will be read. You also don't want written records of your failures.

2. Put it into perspective

Remember, nobody cares about you as much as you do. We walk around thinking everyone is so concerned with what we do each day, when in fact, they barely notice. Keep in mind that although to us it might seem like the end of the world as we know it, it will appear way less important to others around us.

3. Learn from it

Successful people didn't get where they are because they never made mistakes. They succeeded because they learnt from them and didn't repeat them. They think over what happened, adjust their behaviour and try again. This is a key difference I see between those who make it and those who don't.

Use your failures as your future strengths.

Some executives even wear their failures as a badge of honour and use them to motivate them into forward motion. They use them when giving speeches, mentoring or as a tool of persuasion. If you think back to an inspiring business book you read recently, they all mention failures and what positive aspects came from them.

4. Reach out

You don't need to suffer in silence. Share your failure with a trusted colleague so you can get a fresh perspective. We often just need to be told it is normal and everyone fails sometimes.

I find that many of my clients have waited far too long to share what's going on. It comes as an instant relief when they finally do get it off their chest. So, why wait?

Sally Fazakerley is an International Executive Coach with 15 years' experience in learning and development. She uses a no-nonsense approach to get you where you want to go. She specialises in international clients who want to gain clarity, take action, and get results.

Check out her website

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