Nearly every professional has experienced the fear and humiliation of making a big mistake at work.
But according to best-selling management author and CNBC contributor Suzy Welch, it's not the mistake that could break your career — it's how you handle it.
"Everybody screws up sometimes," Welch says. "You lose a big client. You hire the wrong person. You miss a deadline for getting a product to market."
"It is not fatal unless you think it is."
So how do you bounce back from a major screwup?
According to Welch, you should immediately take these three steps:
1. Take responsibility
"First, you have to own it," Welch says. "You cannot play the blame game."
While the flub may not be all your fault, pointing fingers at others makes you look petty and unprofessional.
"Even if you aren't the only author of the screwup — and you probably aren't — you still have to take responsibility publicly," she says.
More specifically, indicate your involvement in the mess up. If you were the sole perpetrator, acknowledge that to your boss, and if you were just a part of it, say that you were involved and that you "own the consequences," Welch advises.
2. Conduct a professional "autopsy"
If you screwed up, examine the mistake like a detective would, Welch says.
"Go around to the people who are aware of what happened, and ask them: 'What could have I done? What should have I done?'"
It's not going to be a fun process, Welch admits.
"It is going to take you out of your comfort zone," she says. "But it's going to show that you have the guts to get to the bottom of something."
3. Score a rebound — fast
After you've taken responsibility and learned how to prevent it from happening again, it's time to re-brand yourself with a win, Welch says.
"You've got that scarlet S on your shoulder" for Screwup, she says. "You want to get it off fast."
Go that extra mile to impress your boss. If there isn't a clear opportunity, create one. "Come up with an idea, come up with a task, come up with an assignment."
By quickly getting some points on the board, you can almost always save face.
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