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Conquer Fear Of Mistakes To Make Career Progress

Ramon Greenwood -- Recognize that everyone who successfully travels a rewarding career path makes mistakes at one time or another. The only people who don't make mistakes are those who sit around in isolation contemplating their navels.

People losing their jobs; survivors being asked to take on more duties, often with fewer resources; businesses going bankrupt; mortgages being called. These conditions translate in to more tension and apprehension in the workplace.

"People are feeling anxious, so they're being short-tempered, passive and unproductive," says Martin Yate, a career adviser at

In this environment people tend to hunker down. They spend a lot of time looking over their shoulders, afraid to take chances and assume more responsibility for fear they will make mistakes.

Negative impact on careers

The result is that careers are slowed down, even stalled or derailed, because advancements can only come by taking calculated risks and reaching out to take on more responsibility.

"Tough as it is for cautious people like me to accept, if you don't take calculated gambles you won't get ahead as quickly as those who do," declares Alexandra Levit, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal. "You will also never get over your fear of the unknown and life will be predictable and dull."

So, saddle up and go forward with all the vigor you can muster with common sense to take reasonable risks in improving your performance and profitability of the organization that employs you.

Recognize that everyone who successfully travels a rewarding career path makes mistakes at one time or another. The only people who don't make mistakes are those who sit around in isolation contemplating their navels.

Minimize fallout from mistakes

Here are eight steps you can take to minimize the fallout from your inevitable mistakes.

1. Don't retreat into a shell of self-denial, hoping the error will correct itself. Chances are it won't. Assess the situation. Get all the facts. Why did the mistake occur? How much damage did it cause? Why did it occur? What lessons can be learned, so as to avoid a repeat performance. What's the worst thing that can happen?

2. Admit your error. If an apology is in order, speak up right away with sincerity. Report the situation, unvarnished, immediately to your boss. Sooner or later your mistake will surface anyway. By stepping up promptly you are in a better position to exercise damage control.

Centuries ago Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, advised, "Be not ashamed of mistakes and thus make them crimes."

It's natural to feel regret, even humiliation, and try to act as if the incident never happened. Don't go down that path. Your boss and your associates are certain to be ticked off if you seem to not care that you made a mistake.

3. Have a plan to correct the mistake.

4. The first rule of damage control after a mistake is to reveal all of the facts immediately. Unwanted attention on your error is renewed when you dribble out the story bit by bit.

5. Accept responsibility. Don't blame others. It's easy and tempting to get defensive and look for scapegoats. That sort of behavior only exacerbates the problem.

6. Be prepared to receive some criticism from your boss and your associates. Listen carefully. Is it valid? If so, learn from it. Expect that some of the negative feedback will be simply carping, probably from those who envy your courage in stepping up and taking responsibility. Don't even think about retaliating. You'll only make matters worse. Look ahead.

7. It's okay to feel the pain, even to mourn a little, but don't make a hair shirt part of your wardrobe. Get back up, dust yourself off and go back to work full speed.

8. Once you've processed the mistake, learn from the experience and start remedial actions. Then leave the misstep behind.

The only truly unforgivable mistake is to repeat a mistake.

To read more of Ramon Greenwood's common sense work advice on how to protect and advance your career during tough times, sign up for a free subscription to his widely read e-newsletter and participate in his blog at Ramon coaches from a successful career as Senior VP at American Express, author of career-related books, and a senior executive/consultant in Fortune 500 companies.

© 2010 Ramon Greenwood

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