We all make mistakes. It's a natural part of being human. And in fact, we learn the most from our mistakes - not from our successes. In many situations, we can correct our mistakes. Otherwise, just forget about the error and move on. But it also happens that our mistake is serious and there is no longer a way to fix it. Then we have to face its consequences the most.
Making a mistake at work has a special dimension. It may, for example, have a direct impact on our employer. It can affect the company's 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 serious mistake at work, our career may depend on how we behave in the next step.
The current culture, which is regularly perpetuated, glorifies fearlessness. The traditional image of a leader is one that is smart, tough, and fearless. But fear, like any emotion, has an evolutionary purpose and has its benefits. Your concern about not making mistakes is to remind you that you are in a difficult position. Caution has its value in certain situations. So don't get caught up in thinking, "I shouldn't be so scared."
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. Use the tips below to worry less and make better decisions.
Use your emotional agility skills
Fear of mistakes can paralyze people. Emotional agility is the antidote to this paralysis. This process begins with recognizing your thoughts and feelings. Let's imagine that you are responsible for a team that has direct contact with customers during a pandemic. One of your thoughts might be: “I am afraid that during the pandemic 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's 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 in an ideal way", "I cannot have full control over this", "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 in accordance with your personal values and in the area where you have influence.
In situations of uncertainty, act in accordance with your personal values
Suppose one of your highest values is conscientiousness. 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 own concerns. Or that any employee who feels worse immediately leaves the workplace and goes to the doctor.
Define for yourself the five most important personal values related to making decisions in a situation of uncertainty or crisis. Then ask yourself how each of these values relates to the important choices you are facing.
Repeat this process for each of your fears. This will help you get used to the fact that sometimes we have to act, even though the best course of action is not clear to us.
This avoids the common fear trap where people try to reduce their uncertainty to zero in the first place. But since this is not objectively possible, they are stuck in the process indefinitely instead of acting.
If you are afraid - first expand your thinking
When we are afraid of making a mistake, our thinking focuses on the scenario of making a mistake. This greatly narrows our perspective.
Imagine you are walking at night. It's dark, so you're worried about tripping. Because of this, you instinctively look at your feet. What is the effect? Sooner or later you're going to hit your head on a lamppost.
Or imagine a person who is afraid of flying planes. He travels everywhere by means of 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 greatest fears in the broader context of all other threats. This will help you get a better perspective on what you fear the most.
It may seem illogical that your fear of making a mistake can be reduced by 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're concerned about the right things
Business leaders (but not only!) can be so focused on minimizing or optimizing one particular thing that they don't realize that other people 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, especially conscientious people or people with a tendency to perfectionism, impose much higher expectations on themselves than the outside world. It is often the case that the quality standards that we impose on ourselves are beyond the reach of other people's 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 other people.
If you are one of these people, 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're taking care of the right things.
As Marc Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook said: "Done is better than perfect (because perfect is never done)." And this is where I agree with him!
If you make a mistake - apologize, but keep it simple
If you made a mistake at work - apologize. Honestly say the words: "I'm sorry, I made a mistake." If you can fix the error - clearly offer and communicate how you intend to fix it. Resist the temptation to offer excuses or the temptation to keep apologizing. Please don't go on and on about this topic forever. Be professional and to the point, realizing how valuable other people's time is. Your mistake 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 its employees.
An apology also gives your co-workers an opportunity to release unspoken anger or anger. The moment you apologize is actually 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 can't change the past, but you can find a solution for the present. A single simple apology expressed sincerely to the right person or people, along with a possible solution, will be much more positively received than a bunch of rounds, of "politically correct" statements and words addressed to the entire office.
Calmly accept the consequences of a serious mistake
If you have made a serious mistake at work - management and the HR team can decide whether some form of formal reprimand is necessary. What is important in this process is whether there is a way to fix the error. If it exists - suggest this solution without waiting for the results of the discussion "upstairs". In fact, no one wants to punish other people and spend their time on such a thankless subject.
If you have a way to fix your mistake, then notice that thanks to this you also solve the problem that 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 a lot in making a decision. And as brutal as it sounds, your company's decision-makers are primarily interested in how to minimize or even reverse the losses resulting from your mistake, rather than dealing with you.
However, if in the end it was decided to give you a formal reprimand or another, an adequate form of punishment - accept these consequences and carry on with your professional tasks without complaining.
This reinforces your apology and will likely earn additional respect. Whether it's extra work for a few days (to deal with the consequences of your mistake), reaching out to a victim, or communicating with a company's client - do it and do it well. Saying you're sorry isn't enough - you have to show it through your actions.
Such an attitude will most likely make you build the image of a person who can learn from mistakes and is able to overcome their weaknesses. These are very valuable features. And very often such difficult situations and the way we deal with them are the beginning of an important positive turn in our professional career.