A man battles his fears, representing his internalised fear of workplace error.
Image: © Rudall30/Stock.adobe.com

Pobody’s nerfect: Undermining the terror of an error

14 Jun 2024

No matter who you are, how hard you try or how much you want to avoid it, we all make mistakes in life and in our jobs. Learning how to take those missteps and grow is a valuable life skill.

Making a mistake at work, no matter how small, can some times make you feel like the sky is falling down, the walls are closing in and all you want is for the ground to swallow you whole. 

The good news is, it’s just a feeling, the majority of us have experienced it and very rarely is a mistake the nightmare scenario you have built it up to be. Regardless of industry or title, jobs come with a degree of expectation that can quickly manifest as internalised pressure. 

Many of us carefully cultivate the image of our working self, to showcase our capability and professionalism, as well as our readiness to tackle any issues that come our way. 

But in the words of psychotherapist Anne Wilson Schaef, “perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order”, so when our struggle to be perfect becomes so ingrained in our minds, the fear brought about by even the idea of making a mistake can be paralysing. 

Simply acknowledging your error and making a mental note to not replicate the mistake is fine, but it doesn’t deal with the real problem, that is, the often crippling inability to manage the stress that comes with the fear of failure. With that in mind, what are some of the steps you can take to reinvent how you cope with workplace mistakes?

Take control

When we make a mistake, a knee-jerk reaction can be to try and talk our way out of it, leading to a jumbled mess that inadvertently misconstrues the facts, or doesn’t always convey the message we are trying to get across.

The timeframe in which the mistake occurs can add pressure to the situation, making you feel as though you have to address it immediately or else the consequences will be significantly worse. 

But don’t panic. Give yourself a few minutes to fully understand what has gone wrong, what part you have played in it, what the end result is and the necessary steps involved in a resolution.

Taking time away to compose yourself and devise a plan is smart and a useful skill at work, as it indicates that you take your role seriously, that you can function under pressure, that you know how to apply critical thinking and that you are proactive. 

Some jobs will require you to make snap decisions, with very little time to process information, but most roles will give you a little latitude to stop and think.


As adults in a professional setting we have a responsibility to hold ourselves accountable for our own actions. In the working environment, it is basic etiquette to acknowledge the mistake you have made, try to resolve the issue and respectfully make amends with anyone who was impacted by the error.

Once you have made a sincere effort to rectify the mistake, it can be useful to draw a line underneath the incident. Granted you may still be grappling with residual feelings, such as anger, embarrassment or frustration, but the healthier route is often in accepting your error, understanding you have addressed it appropriately and letting yourself off the hook. 

It’s always helpful to remind yourself that we rarely judge others as harshly as we judge ourselves, so apply that nugget of perspective and end the cycle of constantly knocking yourself for a mistake that is already in the past. 

Ask yourself why

With the pressures of the day, as well as deadlines and management looming overhead, it can be tempting to accept the blame, make your amends and move on to the next item on your agenda. 

While this might seem like a positive way of putting the incident in the past and getting back on track with your work schedule, a failure to identify why you made the error in the first place has the potential to enable the mistake to reoccur. 

Taking the steps to understand a mistake and applying solutions based on your own efforts will boost your confidence, and the next time there is a situation you will find you have the skills and ability to tackle it. 

If you discover that issues in your own life are causing an increase in workplace errors, for example if you have been unwell or are experiencing burnout, don’t be hard on yourself. These are very common issues and should be brought to the attention of your employer, so they can assist you in getting back to your usual self. They want you to perform at your best, as much as you do. 

At the end of the day, nobody’s perfect, we all make errors. Some mistakes are harder to fix than others and it can shake our confidence, but if you approach coping with making a mistake in the same way that you view other at-work growth opportunities, then you will build a foundational skill that will serve you throughout your life.

Find out how emerging tech trends are transforming tomorrow with our new podcast, Future Human: The Series. Listen now on Spotify, on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Laura Varley
By Laura Varley

Laura Varley is a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic. She has a background in technology PR and journalism and is borderline obsessed with film and television, the theatre, Marvel and Mayo GAA. She is currently trying to learn how to knit.

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