Four workers in a repair shop stand together and have an informal meeting.
As an employer, when you approach an employee about a mistake that was made, do so from a standpoint of objectivity. This approach nets more positive, productive results. — Getty Images/kali9

A recent U.K. study reported that one in five employees have made what they consider to be a critical mistake at work. Employee mistakes are relatively common; savvy business owners use these incidents as an opportunity for professional development. The next time someone on your team makes an error, here’s how to address the problem to keep morale up.

Start by getting more information

Before responding, make sure you have a complete picture of what happened. “Consider that factors beyond the worker's control may have contributed to the mistake, such as team members who didn't fulfill their responsibilities, support services—such as IT—that were not responsive, or clients who weren't communicative,” wrote SHRM.

Don’t make assumptions right away about blame. Approach the situation with objectivity and curiosity to avoid putting someone on the defensive and get the information you need.

Identify the outcome you want

Before you pull the employee aside for a conversation, think about what you want the outcome of your communication to be. Ideally, the result will be to help them make better decisions next time rather than feel guilty or demoralized.

“Unless the mistake resulted from gross negligence or laziness, you don't want to berate or diminish them. It can harm their self-confidence and self-efficacy,” wrote SHRM. “While ensuring people are held accountable for their behavior and performance, use the mistake as a learning opportunity.”

Making someone feel bad is unlikely to impart the wisdom that you hope will prevent this error from happening in the future. Approach your conversation with the person with a particular learning outcome in mind.

Harvard Business Review suggests that instead of asking 'Why did you do that?' instead ask 'How will you do it differently next time?'

Ask future-focused questions

When you sit down with the employee who made a mistake, focus on moving forward. Harvard Business Review suggests that instead of asking “Why did you do that?” instead ask “How will you do it differently next time?”

This approach, wrote HBR, is advantageous. “It’s faster and more reliable because you’re removing one step in the learning process. Rather than going over your mistake and then (hopefully) applying the learning to a future situation, you go straight to the application.”

Posing questions in this manner also empowers the employee to take accountability and show how they’re recognizing their mistake. It reinforces the learning opportunity that a mistake presents and builds momentum in the right direction.

Communicate with compassion and grace

Mistakes happen to everyone; unless it is a pattern of careless behavior, try to show the person a little grace. “Fear can be a short-term motivator, but you don’t need to be a bully to succeed. If you are clear with expectations and help people understand where they stand (including if their job is in jeopardy), you can still be empathetic and compassionate,” wrote Fast Company.

Communicating with compassion also encourages your team to come forward when they make a mistake again. Inevitably, this dynamic creates a better work culture where innovation is embraced and failure is seen as an opportunity.

[Read more: How to Handle Employee Mistakes and Build a Better Team]

Make giving feedback a regular practice

Don’t wait for problems to build up before responding. Make giving feedback — both positive and negative — part of your work culture. This practice helps you address smaller mistakes informally while saving in-depth conversations for more serious errors. Moreover, it allows you to focus on positive performance to keep morale up and balance out any setbacks.

Create boundaries for repeat issues

If someone is consistently messing up at work, you may need to take a firmer approach. When someone is being negligent, it impacts the rest of the team negatively. Decide how much leeway you’re willing to give and communicate that standard. Document the behavior and let repeat offenders go once they’ve passed your threshold.

[Read more: 6 Ways to Balance Managing Employees While Giving Them Freedom]

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