How to Handle Mistakes at Work – Yours and Others’

Most of us have experienced that sick feeling in our guts when we’ve realized that we made a mistake at work. And not just a little mistake, but a mistake that is going to take some work to fix. A mistake that we worry will forever affect our credibility going forward. One that we think at best will blow over in a little while or we decide at worst will cause our peers and our clients to lose trust in our judgment.

 Certainly some mistakes are quite serious. Some are the consequence of extreme carelessness or ineptitude and the results can be career-ending. But those are not the mistakes we are talking about here. We want to address the vast majority of mistakes: honest errors that can eventually be rectified. The real impact of an honest mistake is largely determined by how it is handled in the aftermath – whether the mistake is yours or a team member’s.

 So, what should you do when a mistake is made?

 Maintain Perspective.  The first thing to do is to keep things in perspective. Perfection is often expected in professional settings, but no one is infallible. Unless you or your colleague made an error while charged with the safety of human life, e.g., as a pharmacist or a bus driver or a nuclear power plant manager, the mistake was not deadly and can probably be corrected.

·      If the mistake is an employee’s, don’t overreact. Don’t scream or lose your cool. Stoking fear is never the answer, especially if you hope to develop the employee and have them bounce back. “[Stoking fear is] counterproductive because humans don’t perform to their optimum level when the brain becomes preoccupied with fear and uncertainty,” says Don Rheem, a leadership expert and author of Thrive by Design: The Neuroscience that Drives High-Performance Cultures. [1]

 So, once you’ve taken a breath and put things in perspective, what next?

Take Responsibility, Apologize and Correct.  Don’t make excuses or allow an employee to make them either. Accurately assigning responsibility for the error to the correct party not only allows them to own it and move on, it helps pinpoint how the mistake happened so similar mistakes can be avoided in the future.

·      If the mistake is yours, acknowledge it, sincerely and concisely apologize for it, whether to a co-worker or a client, and go about fixing it. Many times the reaction to a mistake will be the key to how others view the mistake in the first place. Don’t add unnecessary drama to the situation. Take care of it and move on. If you seem to have things under control, you will retain the trust of your colleagues.

·      If the mistake is an employee’s, encourage them to take responsibility, apologize and correct as well. While in some instances you may need to apologize on behalf of your company or firm to a client, when possible you should allow the employee to do so directly. Giving the employee power over managing the aftermath of the mistake helps with accountability and fosters an environment of trust – i.e., if the employee feels that you trust them to make things right, they will be able to move forward productively without worrying about never-ending repercussions for their error.

Learn from the Mistake, Move On and Perform.  Once you’ve acknowledged the mistake and, when possible, corrected it, ask what can be learned from the mistake, let it go and move on. When you do move on, make sure you dependably generate stellar work product. A mistake once in a blue moon will likely be forgotten if it’s overshadowed by excellent performance 99% of the time.

·      If the mistake is an employee’s, allow them to move on and give them the tools to excel. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the mistake and check for similar errors in the near future if needed, but don’t hold the error over the employee’s head forever. Foster a culture in which everyone is encouraged to learn from their mistakes, and then sincerely allow employees to do so. If you isolate them or cut them off, employees will never be able to put their learnings into practice. Either you trust them with their work, or you don’t. Most employees will remain well aware of their prior mistake(s) and try earnestly to avoid them in the future.

As noted earlier, there are certainly some mistakes that are nearly impossible to correct, let alone rebound from. But most errors at the office are correctable and, when handled with the right perspective, become opportunities to lead, learn, promote accountability and improve performance.

[1] Quoted in AdWeek, (August 22, 2017) What to Do When an Employee Makes a Mistake. Retrieved at

Dealing with a Toxic Colleague

No matter your industry, you’ve likely had the unfortunate experience of trying to cope with  negative or otherwise toxic colleagues. You know who they are. They’re the coworkers who backbite, gossip, bully, undermine, complain, and generally suck the energy from you and your team. They’re selfish and exhausting. Some are truly unethical or corrupt. They change the tenor of a room the moment they enter. When a toxic colleague’s name appears on an incoming call, you think twice before answering – if you answer at all.

 While dealing with toxic colleagues can be a daily challenge on a personal level, according to a recent Harvard Business School Study,[1] “even relatively modest levels of toxic behavior can cause major organizational cost, including customer loss, loss of employee morale, increased turnover, and loss of legitimacy among important external stakeholders.”

 If you’re like most people, you’d be astonished to know how much time you waste even thinking about toxic people at work, let alone dealing with the repercussions of their poisonous conduct. So it’s well worth understanding how to deal with, and eradicate where possible, such destructive behavior.

 If you are not in a position to terminate a toxic employee yourself and must contend with him or her as a colleague, there are some ways you can respond and set boundaries that will allow you to remain productive and diminish personal strain.

·      Keep your distance. Create physical and emotional space between you and your toxic coworker.[2] Engage with them as little as you are able, depending upon your job. Toxic people are often just seeking attention, so keeping it from them may serve to minimize their provocative conduct.

·      Counter negativity. If you feel comfortable defending a colleague who’s being undermined or gossiped about, or supporting a team member’s decision or action, do so tactfully. Letting a toxic coworker know that you find their comments off-base might cause them to think twice before sharing them further.

·      Respond with brevity or even silence. If you don’t feel comfortable countering negativity, then don’t. Simply don’t engage in caustic conversation and avoid responding at all to inappropriate comments – particularly those made via text or e-mail. Even a smile and a hurried “Excuse me, I have a meeting” can get you out of an unwanted breakroom interaction if necessary.

·      Reward positive behavior. If, by chance, the ordinarily offensive coworker behaves in a supportive or positive manner, acknowledge it genuinely.

·      Don’t stoop to their level. You won’t be happy if you roll around in the mud, so to speak, with a toxic person. Maintain your own high, personal standards when dealing with them, and with the rest of your colleagues, that serve as an example.

Of course, some colleagues are so toxic that the only way to decontaminate a workspace entirely is to eliminate the poison. If you have tried as best you can to improve your relationship with a particular colleague, or at least minimized your engagement, but have had little success, seek the advice of an HR professional. Leaving your job to get away from a toxic coworker should be a remedy of last resort.

If you are in a position to make an employment decision about such a person, don’t wait until they’ve caused irreparable damage – including the loss of valuable team members – before you take action. Regardless of a toxic employee’s skill set or experience, behavior that negatively impacts an entire team of people is bad for business.

Ridding your team of a toxic employee, as you might suspect, has its challenges. Be as detailed as possible when documenting the events justifying the termination. It’s relatively straightforward to justify termination for provable ethical violations or corruption. But what about less egregious behavior? Avoid vague claims like “you have a bad attitude” or “you’re too negative.” Rather, cite real examples of toxic behavior – e.g., “you screamed at Susan in a meeting” or “you claimed Dave’s work as your own”, etc.

 Sadly, the conduct that has made the employee toxic to begin with can make terminating their employment a more delicate undertaking than usual. In today’s ruthless online world, unhappy, insecure ex-employees seeking revenge can do a lot of damage to individuals and former employers on company sites and across social media. (This can be more immediately damaging than an eventual legal action by the employee.) So, in addition to the standard practice of managing the termination in the presence of an HR representative, you should request from the employee a legally binding separation agreement that protects the company from slander.

 The above are a few ways you can manage the unfortunately all-too-common presence of toxic colleagues in your office. The list is not exhaustive, but will hopefully serve as a starting point to help make your team as healthy and mutually supportive as possible.

[1] Housman, Michael and Minor, Dylan (2015) Toxic Workers. Harvard Business School Paper No. 16-057. Available at:

[2] Burkus, David (2018, November 2) How to Deal with Toxic Coworkers, Psychology Today. Retrieved from



Does Your Company Culture Welcome Fresh Ideas?

Does Your Company Culture Welcome Fresh Ideas?

Innovation is the driving force for most successful businesses. If you rest on your laurels and lean heavily on convention, your company is never going to grow—and in fact, it may become stagnant.

As a leader, part of your job is coming up with new perspectives and forward-thinking ideas. Even more importantly, is your willingness to consider ideas from your team, and to create an environment in which people feel comfortable brainstorming, thinking out loud, and trying new ways of doing things.

How to Keep Talented Employees on Board

How to Keep Talented Employees on Board

Losing a star performer always hurts. Not only because it is a blow to our own egos, it can also have a substantive impact on the organization. Pragmatically speaking, identifying, hiring, and training a replacement can be cumbersome and expensive.

That’s why managers strive to increase employee retention, especially where A-listers are concerned. And yet, these can be the very employees you’re most likely to lose. Big talents who have little trouble finding good offers elsewhere, and who may be itching to take on more responsibilities and new challenges.

Can Introverts Be Great Leaders?

Can Introverts Be Great Leaders?

We tend to think of leaders as people who are naturally gregarious, charismatic, and outgoing. In reality, you don’t have to be an extrovert to be an inspiring and effective leader. In fact, people of all personality types can exhibit good leadership qualities.

If you’re someone who tends to be quiet and inward-focused, you are not precluded from becoming an engaged leader. Here are some guidelines we recommend for transforming your introversion into savvy leadership.