Step up and confess as soon as you realize what went wrong. Waiting to see how things shake out is a bad idea. As soon as a situation starts going south, step up and point out where the problem started – with you, yourself. The sooner the problem is identified, the sooner a resolution is possible, and that minimizes consequences.
Don’t skate around the issue. This means you should state the problem directly, clearly and simply rather than beating around the bush or attempting to confuse the issue in order to make you look less responsible. Again, when problems crop up, the quickest way to the solution is simple, direct identification of the problem’s origin and details. Trying to skate around an issue is just frustrating, and in the end the problem takes longer to deal with and becomes more complicated the longer it goes on.
Don’t try to shift even a part of the blame. This doesn’t mean that you should accept blame that you don’t deserve. But saying things like, “Well, if he hadn’t done this then I wouldn’t have done that.” It is lame. Instead, say, “I am so sorry for this. I had no idea that what I did could cause this type of problem. How can I help fix it?”
Realize that the truth will be discovered eventually. It’s been said, and is generally true, that “the truth is just a shortcut to what’s going to happen anyway.” If you’re around when the truth does come out, and you haven’t confessed your part in the problem, your credibility for all future situations will be compromised terribly. When others realize that you had the last clear chance to step up and own that mistake, but instead you allowed them to share blame with you, they will not appreciate it at all. When your boss realizes that you allowed others to bear responsibility for your mistake, your days will be numbered, or at the very least, your prospects for advancement will be curtailed significantly.56
Help solve the problem. Once you’ve caused a problem, don’t wait to be forced or pressured to remedy it – volunteer. Don’t ask if you can help – ask how you can help. Watch carefully as those who help the most do their work, and take note of the way they resolve the issue. File this information in your memory and have it handy for later use.
Explain yourself. Once the recovery is underway, you should try to explain what your thought process was, so that your boss, significant other or parent can understand what led you to the point where things went pear-shaped. Many times, once you’ve explained your thinking, others will say, “Well, that does make sense in a way, however…” By doing this, you are allowing them to help correct the way you think about things, and helping yourself for the future. Be careful not to justify the mistake or behavior. Look at the difference in these two statements: “I’m sorry I yelled at you, but I haven’t been sleeping well.” (Justification) versus “I’ve been on edge because I haven’t been getting much sleep lately, but it was wrong of me to yell at you and I’m sorry.” Learn how to apologize properly.
Accept consequences. There may be some – that’s why it’s scary to step forward and admit responsibility. But shouldering blame early and helping in the resolution of the problem will make any punishment or penance less harsh. Take your punishment as courageously as possible, and when it’s done, it’s really over – you’ll have learned your lesson and maintained personal integrity in the process.