6 Effective Ways to Deal With Failure at Work


Novelist James Joyce: “Mistakes are the portal to discovery.

And martial artist Morihei Ueshiba said, “Failure is the key to success; every mistake teaches us something.

Miss a deadline? Show up to a client meeting unprepared? It’s okay to screw up once in awhile. Failures are part of work and life. We fear it. We dread it. We may let it take control of our emotions. However, failure – both on and off the job – helps us grow. Through failure, we discover what works and what doesn’t, and we learn to become better versions of ourselves. How can we keep failure from derailing us?

Here are a few tips to cope with workplace failures and stay resilient at work when faced with mistakes.

1. Be transparent

First of all, whether the mistake was made by you or a team member, own up to it. Accountability is key for any individual or organization. Don’t sugarcoat the situation. Apologize and explain clearly what you’re going to do to fix the situation. A meaningful apology can go a long way.

2. Take a problem-solving approach

When something unexpected comes up, assess the situation and brainstorm all possible solutions. Think about how you’re going to address the mistake. Consider what you’re going to do differently next time. Plus, it helps alleviate the stress when you know you have possible solutions.

3. Build (and use) a support network

It’s important to be aware of your own limitations and to ask for help when needed. It’s okay to admit that you can’t do it alone. After all, you can’t do everything by yourself. And it definitely eases the stress to know that you have a team or network of colleagues whom you can rely on – and vice versa. That’s what teamwork is all about. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or get clarification when assigned a task. Any supervisor or manager will tell you that it’s better to be thorough and ask questions about a given assignment to make sure you do it right than to make assumptions and possibly make a mistake.

4. Communication is key

Similarly, it’s always important to keep your stakeholders updated, whether it’s your boss, a client, or anyone else involved. Even if you’re afraid you might not make a deadline due to multiple priorities, let them know. They may have an alternative for you or bring someone else on to help you out. No matter what, keep them updated throughout the process.

5. Don’t dwell on failure

Obsessing over any failure doesn’t change the outcome. In fact, it only intensifies the outcome, trapping you in an emotional loop of doom that disables you from moving on. You can’t change the past, but you can change the future. Plus, remember that everyone makes mistakes. Don’t make it personal. One action doesn’t define your identity.

6. Learn from the failure and adapt

Instead of overwhelming yourself with feelings of anger and frustration, look at the situation analytically. Ask yourself: Why did I fail? What might have produced a better outcome? Apply those takeaways to your future endeavours. Did you know that Thomas Edison reportedly failed 10,000 times before inventing the light bulb? As he said, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Always keep in mind that we learn just as much – if not more – from our failures as we do from our successes.

Samuel Dunsiger is a Toronto-based freelance writer and public relations professional with experience working with various brands, startups, and not-for-profit organizations. He frequently writes about occupational health and safety, education, employment, technology, entrepreneurism, and mental health. He has contributed to OHS Canada magazine, Jobpostings magazine, University Affairs, Techvibes, blogTO, CBC.ca and more. You can connect with him on Twitter at @samdunsiger.

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