Knowing how to, and being able to, own up to a mistake is a career skill everyone needs.
News flash: Sometimes things go wrong. The delivery never arrives, the meeting is a disaster, the fix didn’t stay fixed, the sales pitch bombed, the customer is teed off.
At this point, two things happen. Folks start looking for someone to blame. And everybody who was anywhere near the aforementioned fiasco scatters to the four winds.
It’s human nature to want to avoid blame. But it’s also a fact that when the thing that went wrong was clearly your fault, stepping up and shouldering responsibility is exactly what you need to do.
True, it takes courage to say, “It was me. I am responsible for this mess.” You’ll need to remind yourself that your integrity will earn you the admiration, gratitude and respect of everyone. You may also discover that most people find it easier to forgive and forget errors when they are willingly owned up to.
While you’re coming clean, make a point of describing what you’ve learned from the experience. Don’t forget to suggest ways to resolve whatever issues your error may have caused. If an actual apology is in order, keep it brief and sincere. Focus on facts, not feelings. Make it easy for everyone to move on, and then do move on.
Perhaps, even knowing all this, you may still find it excruciating to own up to a gaffe. If admitting error really goes against your grain, try to reframe it in terms of accountability instead. Accountability is all about identifying what went wrong and looking for ways to fix those things, whereas blame tends to be simply about finding fault. Blame is judge-y and emotional and focuses on the past. Accountability is logical and holds up its head as it looks toward the (improved) future.
Either way, at one point we’re all going to mess up and will need to own up. You may as well get used to the idea.
P.S.: A second situation where you may find yourself accepting blame is when you are the boss. Even if whatever happened took place without your knowledge or consent, the ultimate responsibility is going to lie at your feet. Remember that old expression, “The buck stops here”? When you’re a leader, that saying applies to you.