How To Admit Mistakes at Work Graciously


All this has been my fault. I asked more of my men than should have been asked of them

– Robert E. Lee, after heavy Confederate losses at Pickett’s Charge

ONE OF THE most widely respected commanders during the Civil War, Robert E. Lee admitted to being at fault during the serious casualties suffered by the Confederates at Gettysburg in his resignation letter to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Who would have thought that a man of his stature would admit his mistakes and take responsibility for what happened?

[bctt tweet=”Today, when so many leaders justify their wrongdoings – even in office settings – how can YOU be different?” via=”no”]

Do Leaders Who Admit Their Mistakes Gain More Respect?

Although a good number of managers are excellent at supervising people, there are a few who will rub their subordinates the wrong way. One of the most frustrating things leaders could do is try to hide their mistakes. But here’s the thing: employees KNOW you committed an error. They’re just keeping silent about it because they’re waiting on your next move.

There are two main reasons why many managers refuse to admit their gaffes.

One, they’re afraid of consequences. Once you admit mistakes at work, there’s no question that you’ll also need to face the outcome – no matter how bad it is. For some leaders, this can be a hard pill to swallow.

Second, they believe that apologizing for mistakes makes you look weak. This action usually leads to cover their tracks by blaming others or justifying wrong decisions, just to save face. In the end, employees under such managers lose trust and respect for them, leading to poor office morale.

Over time, these same managers may wonder why their subordinates are doing the same: validating incorrect choices, using unethical processes, or even taking credit for someone else’s work. This is all because they didn’t know how to admit mistakes and move beyond them. When employees hate their managers, they end up hating their work and becoming disengaged workers. According to one report, disengaged employees cost companies an estimated $319 billion to $398 billion a year.

[bctt tweet=”Admitting you’re wrong doesn’t make you any less than who you are. ” username=”bizmastersglobal”]

In fact, it’s the first step to correcting it. This practice also helps develop trust and respect in your subordinates. Managers who know WHEN to apologize for their slip-ups are not only admired, they become better individuals who are more accepting, open-minded, and compassionate.

Not bad qualities to have.

How To Admit Mistakes at Work Graciously

Managers aren’t the only ones who need pointers in confessing to their faults. If you properly master these gentle techniques, it’ll be easier for you to accept the consequences of your actions without feeling like you lost your pride.

  1. Do It Personally

It can be so easy to print out an excuse and tack on the bulletin board when you’ve made a huge gaffe. Some managers even have representatives apologize on their behalf. But these only show that you’re afraid and are not ready to own up to your errors. Whether you’ve hurt a coworker or made a wrong decision on a project, admit your mistake in person. If it’s really not possible, use a phone or utilize videochat services.

  1. Choose Your Words

It’s amazing what words can do. In this case, use the power of select vocabulary to make admitting you’re errors easy for both you and the offended party. Other things you could say besides “sorry” is “thank you” or “I apologize”. For example: “I apologize for raising my voice the other day”, or “Thank you for pointing that out just now. That was my mistake”.

However, don’t forget to acknowledge instances when a “sorry” is absolutely necessary, like when you’ve hurt someone’s feelings. Always be sincere in admitting mistakes and taking responsibility.

  1. Be Sincere and Sympathize

Don’t just churn out empty words when you admit mistakes to your employees. Sometimes, other folks are also affected by the errors we made. In office scenarios for instance, failure to submit a report for a client may end up putting an entire team (not just the manager) at risk. When you ask for forgiveness, let them know that you understand how scared they are of the outcome, too.

Example: “I know you’re scared that the client might pull out of this project because we failed to send the report on time. That was my mistake just now. But I’m currently working with him to amend this error, and I just want to thank you all for staying with me on this.”

Assuring them that you have a grip on matters will not only make them feel confident to have you as their leader, it will show you strong and capable you are when things don’t work out as planned.

  1. Have a Plan of Action

Show that you mean your apology by having a plan of action ready. This is what separates good leaders from great ones. Excellent managers can think quickly on their feet on how to best approach a problem. If you’re not sure what to do yet, give yourself the time you need to figure out the best solution.

Here’s another example based on the previous scenario: “I am currently working on a solution to fix this issue as soon as possible, and I’m confident that we could finish this assignment despite this setback.”

  1. Ask for Help (when applicable)

Sometimes, in order to correct mistakes and move beyond them, two heads are better than one. It’s okay to ask help from employees, especially if you’re out of ideas. This approach benefits you in two ways: one, you get to fix a problem faster; second, you boost your workers’ confidence in themselves.

Employees who feel that their skills and talents are important for the good of the company are more receptive to their managers.

Admit Mistakes and Move Beyond Them

Think about it: humans commit errors all the time. Just because you’re a leader doesn’t mean you need to be flawless to be respected. Instead, aim to have a listening ear, a forgiving nature, and an understanding heart. Learn from your employees just as much as they learn from you. If you’ve had people leave due to your refusal to admit fault, it’s never too late to change for the better.

Like General Robert E. Lee, admitting you have been wrong doesn’t mean you’re less than capable – in fact, it only shows that you’re brave enough to face whatever’s coming your way.

Cris Antonio
CRIS is a senior copywriter and the Chief Editor of She’s currently focused on writing articles to help millennials find better career opportunities as they strive to make a difference. Aside from writing, Cris also enjoys painting, collecting toys, and reading German novels. Follow her on Twitter below for more motivational and educational articles exploring careers, leadership, and management.




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