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Top 10 ways to recover from an office faux pas

John Heckers //October 5, 2010//

Top 10 ways to recover from an office faux pas

John Heckers //October 5, 2010//

We all do it (including yours truly). We all put our big feet in our big mouths from time to time, or display behavior that is inconsistent with the professional veneer that most of us put over the cave-man or cave-woman with our suits and briefcases. Here are some tips on gaffes and how to deal with them.

1). Everyone makes them. First, realize that you aren’t alone. While you may feel incredibly stupid or very embarrassed by a work or business gaffe, you are in good company. Most CEOs of major corporations have probably done worse things than you did. Everyone’s censor is going to take a vacation every once in a while. So don’t get too upset.

2). Evaluate the degree of damage you have done. Speak humbly to your superiors. Find out how much real damage you have done. You have almost certainly exaggerated the importance of your gaffe. It may simply be the equivalent of an inconvenient belch at a formal dinner party – inappropriate and embarrassing, but not disastrous.

3). Seek help. Don’t act like the gaffe didn’t happen, or assume that everything will just blow over. Humbly seek the help of your superior to figure out what to do regarding damage control and repair of the gaffe. Of course, if the gaffe is more than a gaffe – the breaking of a law or ethical code, for example – make sure you talk to your attorney, as these things have consequences beyond simply your professional life.

4). Apologize at once! When you understand that you have hurt someone, or done something inappropriate, apologize immediately, both to the person harmed and your superiors. Make it a sincere apology, showing that you know what you did wrong. People can be very forgiving. Often a simple apology will remedy the situation.

5). Take constructive criticism. One time one of my colleagues did me a very large favor and chewed me out for something he heard me do. While not pleasant, this taught me some important business skills, and helped me deal with similar tricky situations in the future. If your boss or board chew you out, listen humbly, thank them for the constructive criticism, and show that you’ve learned something from the situation. They will probably be surprised, as few people do this. Most just go and lick their wounds.

6). Don’t lick your wounds. It is tempting to “take your dolls and go home” after receiving a behind chewing. Don’t. Most managers and executives truly value someone who, instead of sticking to destructive behavior, can learn from their mistakes and move on. Believe me, they’ve been there, too.

7). Sometimes you need to leave. Mark Hurd learned this at HP. If you have violated company policy egregiously enough, you might be history at that company. This is not the end of the world. In fact, it might be the best thing that has ever happened to you. Learn from Mr. Hurd and his subsequent hiring by Oracle. Every business has competitors, and many are just waiting to get someone their rival did not want, even with some faults.

8). Sometimes you need to stay. Sometimes it is necessary, however, to stick around and do battle for your job. This is a judgment call. There are many questions you need to ask yourself, including how available other jobs are in your area, and how much you like the company where you messed up.

9). Keep your résumé updated. Don’t ever let your résumé and bio get out of date, however. You should always be looking for a job. There are plenty out there. Those who are looking constantly (even when employed) tend to find jobs much more rapidly than those who hold the illusion that they’ll stay forever at their current job.

10). Keep your network updated. There are so many reasons for this, it could be a post of its own. Here are two. One, the better your network, the less anxious a superior will be to fire you. And two, the better your network, the easier it is to walk out of one job into another.

Being overly cautious to avoid mistakes will doom your career much more surely than making a few mistakes. Try not to burn down the company, crash the whole network, or wind up in a lawsuit or grievance. Otherwise, move on from your mistakes and learn from them, swallowing the humiliation and embarrassment of having made them.

Please join John and many of your colleagues for our Executive Structured Networking on Monday, October 11th, 5:30 – 9 at the DAC. More information and registration is found here.

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