Everyone makes mistakes at work, and everyone has been in that overwhelming moment of panic and anxiety when you realize you’ve slipped up. In the midst of all of these feelings, arguments can surface more easily, and admitting to a shortcoming can become more difficult. As terrible as it may feel in the moment, you can come back from your misstep (yes, even the disastrous mistakes). 

There are several steps you can take to approach the situation in a professional way; this article will take you through how to admit you’re wrong and will provide you with some inspiring tips so you can minimize negative feelings and gain control over future situations. 

Why you should admit you’re wrong at work 

More times than not, covering up mistakes and avoiding admitting you’re wrong at work causes additional issues. It almost always works in your favor to be open and honest when you make a mistake in your workplace. Whether it’s a minor error or a disastrous mistake, when an individual has the courage to confess to it, this demonstrates many desirable qualities that employers seek. 

According to Glenn Llopis—entrepreneur, bestselling author, speaker, and senior advisor to Fortune 500 companies—there are 4 principal reasons leaders should admit their mistakes:

1 Earns respect

2 Strengthens the team through vulnerability

3 Demonstrates leading by example

4 Builds a culture of trust 

Essentially, admitting you’re wrong and fessing up to your mistakes fosters open and honest communications, which allow trust to be built and respect to be warranted. This goes for employees and the leadership team, who need to be vulnerable and human to successfully lead by example. 

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6 actionable ways to admit you’re wrong at work 

1 Apologize

When you realize you’ve made a mistake, the easiest thing to do is apologize. In a recent article by the Harvard Business Review, contributor Dina Smith shares: 

“Offer a genuine and humble apology, acknowledging your error and the harm you caused to the other person, team, or the business. Don’t be defensive or make your apology about yourself. What other people care about is your impact, not your intent.”

Your impact, rather than your intent, should be an important point of focus. More often than not, people do have good intentions. That said, it doesn’t mean that the intent dismisses the mistake that was made or the feelings that were hurt. If the outcome is negative, it’s a good idea to start with an apology. 

2 Take accountability 

An apology is a great place to start. The next step has to do with taking accountability. If you don’t change or correct the outcome of the situation, your apology becomes empty. In the same article by the Harvard Business Review, Smith elaborates, expressing: 

“While it is an act of integrity and accountability to admit and apologize for your error, you will only rebuild trust if you correct the behavior or issue. Share what you learned, how it’s going to be different, and commit to doing better. (“I’m sorry. I thought it was okay to attend the call virtually from my desk. I didn’t realize everyone was expected to be in the conference room. I’ll be there from the next meeting.”)

Don’t make excuses and don’t engage in confirmation bias. Simply show the team through your actions that you’re taking accountability. 

3 Act fast 

Take some time to process the mistake you’ve made, but don’t wait until someone else finds out. Be forward and admit to the issue ASAP so you can start mitigating the situation. Acting quickly on a mistake demonstrates humility, honesty, and personal responsibility. These are all desirable attributes in any employee, and your leader will appreciate your candidness. If you’re in a leadership role, your employees will also appreciate your honesty, since you’re setting an example for them and reminding the team that everyone makes mistakes and that it’s okay to admit to them. Issues arise when individuals and teams engage in secrecy or cover up instances or occurrences that would look poor on them. Act quickly to give your apology, but also to solve the solution. Don’t be afraid to share your resulting learnings with your team, too.

4 Offer a solution 

Admitting you’re wrong takes a lot of courage and is a great place to start, but you can really make an impact when you take accountability and then offer a solution. In an article by Forbes, Inga Bielińska explains: 

“It’s obvious that being honest and apologetic is a must when you make an error. Still, what makes the difference between declared ownership and genuine ownership is the preparation of the recovery plan and executing it as soon as possible. So when you say “sorry,” you might at the same time express what has already been done towards eliminating the mistake. It creates an extra layer of safety.”

5 Understand why you made the mistake and learn from it

Think about why the mistake happened. Are you overworked? Do you have too much on your plate? Were the instructions unclear? Did you have adequate knowledge and experience? Have you been feeling unmotivated? Aligning with yourself and engaging in self-awareness can be a powerful means not only to understand the mistake, but also to learn from it. In the same Forbes article as above, Michael Thiemann builds on this idea, expressing: 

“​​Everyone learns more from their mistakes than from what goes right. To ensure that mistakes do not become serious or even irreparable, it is important to compare the actual situation with the target or to have short feedback cycles. Everyone should stand for their mistakes and also get open and quick feedback or tips. Getting stuck and hoping that nothing happens is always fatal.” 

Be open to feedback on your mistakes because they’re the best opportunity to learn and grow. This feedback is also going to help you avoid these situations in the future and continue to develop your skills and competencies as a professional. 

6 Don’t be too hard on yourself — mistakes happen!

It’s easy to beat yourself up and to feel really embarrassed about mistakes that are made at work, but there’s no sense in being self-critical and getting down on ourselves. Engaging in this kind of self-hate isn’t productive and doesn’t help us move forward and improve our personal or professional competencies. Smith, in the Harvard Business Review article, recommends that instead, you engage in compassion for yourself and for others: 

“When you unintentionally err, treat yourself as you would a friend in a similar situation. Among its many proven benefits, practicing self-compassion will support you in regaining clarity and confidence, and moving forward productively from a setback. To ensure you make your mistake a valuable learning experience, also ask yourself these two questions:

1. How can I prevent this from happening again in the future?

2. What’s one lesson I can extract from this experience?

Similarly, show compassion for others when they stumble. Likely, they’re feeling embarrassed and already rebuking themselves enough for their error. Don’t add to the negative emotions they already feel.” 

Examples of how to admit you’re wrong at work

1 Via email

Even if you found a way to fix your mistake, it’s probably a good idea to let your manager know what happened so they’re aware and can support you should anything else come from it. If the mistake was more of a minor issue, you can send an email to your boss to keep them in the loop. Keep the email short and to the point so the message is relayed effectively. If anyone else was affected by the mistake that was made, be sure to reach out to them as well. Try not to be overly apologetic; instead, try to find and propose a solution. 

For example, here’s an email you could send if you sent the wrong meeting minutes to your team:

Hi [Name], 

This morning I sent out the wrong meeting minutes to the team. I’m really sorry about this. I have followed up another email to the team apologizing for the mix-up and with the correct meeting minutes from yesterday attached. If there is anything else that I can do, or if you would like to discuss further, please let me know.  

Best, 

[Your name]

2 In a meeting

If you’ve made a more serious (or maybe even disastrous) mistake, it’s typically better to meet your boss or whoever was affected in person. Keep in mind that this isn’t always necessary. That said, it’s not a bad idea to offer an in-person meeting to talk things through. Send your manager an email with the context of the conversation and find a time that suits both of you. When you sit down to talk, try opening the meeting with an apology.

“I wanted to apologize to you in person. I’m really sorry about what happened yesterday and I feel badly about it. I came up with a few ways that we may be able to move forward, but I would also value your feedback on this.”

Although you may be nervous to have a private conversation, keep in mind that everyone makes mistakes (including your boss) and that it shows strength of character that you care enough to pull them aside and take accountability. Make sure to be upfront and honest, and don’t make excuses for yourself. 

Memes about admitting you’re wrong at work 

Parting advice 

It’s not always easy deciphering how to admit you’re wrong at work. However, mistakes are inevitable, so it’s a good idea to become more comfortable thinking about how you can best address less-than-ideal situations at work. Try incorporating these tips and tricks when you have your next slip-up so you can get better at admitting you’re wrong. Remember to be compassionate to yourself and towards others when mistakes are made. Sometimes our reactions to an error have more important repercussions than the error itself.