Whether it’s sending out a cringe-worthy email to an unintended recipient or accidentally letting your boss see you in a compromising situation for which you have no explanation – we’ve all committed our share of faux pas in the office. After all, to err is human and the mask of professionalism can slip anytime.
But when you do inevitably have an embarrassing moment, not all hope is lost. You don’t need to change your identity and move far away. Unless your breach of workplace etiquette has legal ramifications, there's no reason why you cannot accept responsibility for your actions and make amends.
1. Acknowledge the error
Hoping your faux pas will magically disappear if you don't draw attention to it will do you no favours. If anything, the refusal to acknowledge your mistake will make you look unprofessional in everyone's eyes. While you cannot travel back in time and undo your actions, you can minimize the collateral damage by owning up.
2. Display your commitment to fixing things
Great, you've come clean about your mistake! Now is the time to show your bosses and colleagues that you are committed to ensuring you will never repeat an error of the same degree. Set the right goals for yourself — keep your head down, offer to take on more responsibilities and remind everyone that you are more than your blunder. Let your work ethic do the talking for you.
If you have offended a senior executive, don’t hesitate to escalate the matter to your superior. Do what needs to be done to restore your reputation - whether it’s writing a lengthy apology note or taking care of their paperwork for a week.
3. Don’t be defensive
Nobody is interested in explanations and excuses for why you did something. Instead of trying to deflect the blame onto someone or something else (your lack of sleep, work commitments or an annoying colleague), apologize for the error full stop. Excessive or outright denial will only make the situation worse. After all, you need to be doing everything you can to salvage the remainder of your credibility.
4. Don’t dwell on the past
It’s fine to be remorseful for your actions without portraying yourself as a victim. Self-depreciating jokes are acceptable for maybe a week after the unfortunate incident, but after that, don’t bring it up. People are forgetful and as long as you don’t keep on harping about it, everyone else is bound to put it out of their minds. You’d want people to remember you for the good things you did, not for the one time you managed to embarrass yourself in front of hundreds.
Your climb up the career ladder is still possible, so allow yourself to let go of the incident. Remind yourself that you have several chances to prove yourself and focus your energy on getting things done.