Yikes! Your heart sinks. Dread settles in. Something has gone terribly wrong. Maybe you missed a key deadline. Or had a bad meeting with a client. Or messed up an analysis or report. Or got upset or angry with a colleague. Or something…

You just hit a rocky spot in your career. Your first reaction might be that it is all over – your career is ruined. Step back, take a deep breath and re-group. One mistake does not have to derail your entire career. You can fix your damaged reputation and save your career.

First, fix the problem…

You need to solve the problem you created before you do anything else. Solving the immediate problem gives you a foundation for fixing your reputation. Solving the problem might mean correcting an error or apologizing or pulling a late night to get a project completed or all of that and more. Stabilizing the situation is like triage after an emergency. It happens immediately and with urgency. Once that is done, what happens next?

The immediate crisis is over, but your reputation still has a black mark. What now?

Five Steps for Rebuilding a Damaged Reputation

Here are some steps to consider to give first aid to your damaged reputation. These actions are not about crisis management, they are about fixing your ongoing reputation and saving your career.

1. Accept responsibility – Accept responsibility for what went wrong. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away or make others forget about it. Acknowledge it, so you can move on. If you run from the problem, your co-workers won’t trust you.

2. Be humble but don’t over apologize – Be humble and apologize where needed. But here is a warning – especially for women – don’t over apologize. Don’t repeatedly apologize for the same issue. Don’t offer to “pay penance” over and over. Focus on moving into the future. If you constantly dwell on your mistake, you stay stuck in the past. Don’t let your mistake define you going forward.

3. Express commitment to doing things right – Make sure that coworkers whose work depends on your work know that you are committed to doing the right things. You’ve fixed the previous problem and have put structure or processes in place to prevent future occurrences. Clearly communicate your implemented fixes and process improvements. Share this information in order to re-assure your co-workers and to set accountability for yourself.

4. Do things right – You can’t just commit do doing things right, you have to follow through. You need to perform – consistently and in a sustained way. If you can’t sustain the initial improvement, you might need to consider that the job is not a good fit for you.

5. Rebuild relationships – You must go beyond fixing the problems and the processes. Proactively focus on re-building damaged relationships. Once lost, trust is hard to regain. You have to make the effort to connect and rebuild trust.

Everyone hits rough spots at work. Mistakes happen. When it is your turn, create a first aid plan for your reputation. Your first aid plan will help you move beyond the mistake and focus on future success. As any experienced executive can tell you, navigating trouble ultimately makes you wiser and stronger. Learn, grow and keep on moving.

A version of this article was originally published on June 7, 2019 at Science of Working as First Aid for a Damaged Reputation.