How to Recover From a Professional Faux Pas

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Morrall

I’ve committed several really embarrassing faux pas in my life, and in hindsight, I really wish I had known the best way to make them right. Unfortunately, my worst infractions occurred when I was young and fresh, without the experience of life to teach me when to keep my mouth shut (or when not to reply to an email.)

As a matter of fact, one of my infamous slip-ups was pretty serious – and could have potentially cost me a job, had I not been working for an extremely cool dude at the time. Now, 13 years later, I don’t have nearly as many instances of foot-in-mouth disease because I’ve gained some perspective and a lot of self-control. It still happens to me, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve got a much better handle on fixing the fallout.

If you put your foot in your mouth in a professional setting (say, meeting at work with the higher ups), here are some things you can do to mend fences:

  • Keep your tongue wagging – If you’ve managed to hurl an insult about a coworker without meaning to be heard, the only thing to do is to keep talking. In the form of an apology, that is, and be sure that the apology is a grandiose as the blunder. In other words, a simple, “Sorry” isn’t going to cut it if you dogged on the boss’s wife. A good rule of thumb is to avoid talking badly about anyone you work with, unless you really enjoy eating humble pie.
  • Unmix your message – Sometimes the things we say have well-meant intentions but come out sounding like a garbled hot mess. Don’t worry, I’ve been there too. If what you said just came out wrong, you can (probably) make it right by clearing up any misunderstandings. Be sure to restate your message clearly, but only once your audience fully grasps that what came out initially really wasn’t what you meant.
  • Know your place - This may sound demeaning (to you), but if you spoke out of turn and ended up making your company and/or boss look bad, you’ll probably have to apologize, even if you don’t mean it. Ingenuous? I don’t think so. Although you may not necessarily agree with them, company policies are something you’ll have to abide by as long as you want to keep getting a paycheck from them.
  • Hold the emails - Another easy place to unintentionally offend someone is through the magic of email. If someone said something that upset you, don’t put anything in writing until you’ve cooled off first. Also – always triple check the recipients of your outgoing messages before hitting ‘Send.’ Be ultra careful of that sneaky little ‘Reply All’ button too - unless you want the entire office to know exactly what you think of Becky’s idea for Dave’s going-away party.

These days, I no longer work in an office environment, and the people I collaborate with are all supremely awesome. We communicate via e-meetings, Skype, emails, phone calls, and occasional in-person sessions. There’s still room for error, though, so I always err on the side of caution when it comes to my professional relationships. The keyword in that sentence wraps it up nicely: professional. Knowing what to say and how to handle yourself are all part of having a successful relationship in a professional setting.

“If you have a job without any aggravations, you don’t have a job.”  ~Malcolm S. Forbes

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