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The fear of making mistakes at work - how to overcome it?

The fear of making mistakes at work - how to overcome it? - Empowerment Coaching Krakow Blog 1

We all make mistakes in both personal life and professional environment. It is natural for human beings. And in fact, we learn the most from our mistakes, not our successes. Sometimes, we can quickly correct the situation and prevent the undesired outcomes. In other cases, we can forget about the error and move on. But it also happens that our mistake is a serious one. There is no longer a way to fix it. It is the worst-case scenario. We have to face severe consequences the most.

Making a mistake at work has a unique dimension. It may, for example, negatively impact our employer. It can affect the relationship with the customer, cause a legal problem, or even threaten the health or safety of people. The repercussions will ultimately come to us. When we make a severe mistake at work, our career may depend on how we behave in the next step.

The current culture glorifies fearlessness. The traditional image of a leader is to be smart, tough, and fearless. But fear, like any emotion, has an evolutionary purpose and has its benefits. It is crucial to understand that your concern about not making mistakes is here to remind you that you are in a difficult position. Caution has its value in certain situations. So, do not get caught up in thinking: I should not be so scared. To feel frustrated or embarrassed is OK. It is what we call to be a human being.

Extreme perfectionism can be harmful to your mental health, putting you at a higher risk for job dissatisfaction, burnout, anxiety disorder, or depression. In extreme cases, it may lead to panic attacks or specific phobias.

How to overcome the fear of mistakes at work

No one can reduce errors to zero. But you can learn how to redirect the energy previously spent on preventing mistakes into better decision-making in the future, here and now. Use the tips below to worry less and make better decisions.

Use your emotional agility competence.

Avoiding making mistakes can paralyze people. Emotional agility is the antidote to this paralysis. This process begins with recognizing your thoughts and feelings. Let us imagine, you are responsible for a team that has contact with customers during a pandemic. One of your thoughts might be I will not be able to influence clients enough to ensure the safety of my employees and, consequently, their families.

Voicing your fears out loud helps dispel them. It is like turning on a light in a dark room. Then comes the acceptance of reality. For example, I understand and accept that people will not always behave. I cannot control it. I can only change what I can influence. I cannot take responsibility for things over which I have no control. List every truth worth realizing and accepting. And then start acting per your values in the area that you can influence.

In situations of uncertainty, act according to your values

Suppose one of your highest values ​​is conscientiousness. So, how to apply this value in the above situation? For example, this could include making sure all workers have good-quality masks. Or they feel comfortable expressing their concerns. Or that any employee who does not feel good leaves the workplace and goes to the doctor.

Define the five most important personal values. They will support you in making decisions in uncertainty or crisis. Then, ask yourself how each of these values ​​relates to the choices that you are facing.

Repeat this process for each of your fears. It will help you get used to the fact that sometimes we have to act, even though the best course of action is not clear.

It avoids the common fear of failure trap, where people with a fear try to reduce their uncertainty to zero in the first place. But, since this is impossible, they are stuck in the process indefinitely instead of acting.

The fear of making mistakes at work - how to overcome it? - Empowerment Coaching Krakow Blog

If you are afraid - first expand your thinking.

When we are afraid of making mistakes, our thinking focuses on the potential scenario of creating failure. It narrows our perspective. It is crucial to understand this bias.

Imagine you are walking at night. It is dark, so you are worried about tripping. Because of this, you instinctively look at your feet. What is the effect? Sooner or later, you are hitting your head on a lamppost.

Or imagine a person who is afraid of flying planes. He travels everywhere using transport other than the plane, e.g. by car. And objectively speaking, there are many more car accidents than plane crashes.

When you see this blind spot in your thinking and illuminate it, you can see your anxiety in the broader context of all other threats. It will help you get a better perspective on your fear.

It may seem illogical that your fear of making a mistake can be mitigated through thinking about other negative consequences. But this strategy can put you in problem-solving mode and lessen the mental grip a particular fear holds you in.

Make sure you are concerned about the right things

Business leaders (but not only!) can be so focused on minimizing or optimizing one particular thing. However, they often do not realize that others care most about something else. So make sure what the priorities of the people important to you are. Maybe you are worried about something that is not important to others?!

It is also often the case that people maintain high standards and impose much higher expectations on themselves than the outside world. It especially applies to conscientious people or people with a tendency to perfectionism. It is often the case that the high standards we impose on ourselves are beyond the reach of other perceptions.

For example, we have such high expectations of ourselves that the difference between 100% of our capabilities and our 80% of capabilities is imperceptible to others. In other words, our 80% is at or above the level of 100% of others.

If you are one of these people with fear, please think for a moment how much effort you have to put in to realize your 20% missing ​​between your 80% and your 100%.

According to the Pareto principle, exactly as much as you put in the first 80%!

And how much worry and anxiety cost you every detail that fills the missing (according to you!) 20% of the work???

So, make sure you are taking care of the right things.

Marc Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, coined a nice sentence about high standards: Done is better than perfect (because perfect is never done). And this is where I agree with him!

How to overcome the fear of making mistakes at work - 3 - Empowerment Coaching Krakow Blog

If you make a mistake - apologize, but keep it simple

If you made a mistake - apologize. Say, I am sorry, I made a mistake. If you can fix the error - communicate how you intend to fix it. Resist the temptation to offer excuses or the temptation to keep apologizing. Do keep it simple and avoid repeating yourself.

Please, do not go on and on about this topic forever. Be professional and to the point, realizing how valuable others' time is. Your failure is not the only event in the world that has just happened.

A healthy apology has several main aspects: regret for the mistake, taking responsibility for it, making amends, lessons learned from it, and respecting the company and people.

An apology also allows your co-workers to release unspoken anger. The moment you apologize is the moment you release these negative emotions in others and start working on rebuilding trust and returning to the good old relationship. With a sincere apology, it often happens right away.

You cannot change the past, but you can find a solution for the present. A simple apology expressed sincerely to the team member or group of people, supported by a possible solution, will be much more positively received than a bunch of politically correct statements and words addressed to the entire office.

Calmly accept severe mistake consequences.

If you have made a severe mistake - management and the HR team can decide whether some form of formal reprimand is necessary. What is essential in this process is whether there is a way to fix the error. If you can remedy the situation, prepare an action plan and suggest a solution without waiting for the results of the upstairs discussion. No one wants to punish others and spend their time on such a thankless subject.

If you have a way to fix it, then notice that you also solve the problem your bosses and HR department are now facing. They have to decide whether and how to punish you. By suggesting a way to fix the error, you help them in decision-making. And as brutal as it sounds, your company decision-makers are primarily interested in minimizing the losses resulting from your failure rather than dealing with you.

However, if ultimately it is decided to give you a formal reprimand or another, an adequate form of punishment - accept these consequences (deep breathing may help to face this bad news) and carry on with your professional tasks without complaining.

It reinforces your apology and will likely earn additional respect. Whether it is extra work for a few days (to deal with the consequences of your setback and prevent such a mistake in the future), reaching out to a victim, or communicating with a company client - do it. And do it well. Saying I am sorry is not enough - you must show it through your actions.

Such an attitude will most likely make you build the image of an individual who can learn from mistakes and overcome weaknesses. These qualities will help you in the long run, including your personal life. The situations and how we deal with them are often the beginning of a significant positive turn in our professional career.

If you struggle with your mental health or you suffer from anxiety disorders, a good solution may be evidence-based therapy or technique - for example, the Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) approach.


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