Published December 18, 2012
Whether it's a screaming match with the boss, an accidental “Reply All” or a glaring mistake on a company-wide presentation, workplace blunders happen, but when they do it’s how you remedy the situation that determines how it impacts your career.
We’ve all been there, says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder.com. “Bad habits and innocent things can blow out of proportion easily.”
When a mistake happens, experts say it is important to fess up quickly and work to fix the problem. To get back on the right path, admit that some things need to change, which may mean working harder to double check work or apologizing for inappropriate behavior, says Haefner. “If you want to enjoy a majority of your time at work, it’s important to do these things.”
You Got Caught Gossiping….
Gossiping about a coworker can ruin the office dynamic especially if you’re venting and it gets back to the person, says Haefner. “You have to have an honest conversation with that person and figure out a solution.”
Experts suggest asking a third-party to mediate to help clear the air and keep the discussion focused and productive.
Gossip is part of every work environment and if you have to vent, make sure you trust the person you are talking to and try to focus on finding a solution to the problem, recommends Haefner.
You Offended a Client…
If your boss is brought into the situation, Heather Huhman, Glassdoor career and workplace expert recommends apologizing to your boss and working to create a game plan to fix the situation.
“As much as you impress your boss, you have to impress your clients,” says Huhman. Apologize to the client and explain how you and your boss plan to move forward with their relationship. If necessary, she also recommends fixing the situation internally by apologizing to coworkers.
You Were Offended by a Unprofessional Colleague…
If someone interrupts or discredits colleagues at a client meeting, he or she probably doesn’t realize it, say Huhman. It’s up to the person who’s offended to have a conversation with the perpetrator.
Talk to your coworker in private and explain how this behavior impacts your work. Don’t let emotion drive the conversation, keep the talk focused on concrete facts and how the behavior affects the group, says Huhman.
You Had an Emotional Outburst…
Rants and tears in the office can affect your chances for advancement, according to Amanda Augustine, job search expert at TheLadders. It’s important to know your emotional triggers and remove yourself from situations that can lead to an outburst.
Never allow personal issues to impact your work performance and attitude in the office. “You’re doing your workplace a disservice by bringing your personal issues to work—whether it’s health related or issues with any personal relationships,” says Huhman. It’s also not appropriate to discuss personal problems with colleagues unless your work environment is open and transparent about those issues.
“Instead of crying on a couch or in the cafeteria, if you have personal problems, know when you need to request a day off to take care of problems,” says Augustine.
No matter how bad things get at home or in the office, it is never appropriate to blow up at work, says Augustine. When you feel on the verge of breakdown, walk away and refocus yourself.
“Try to figure what went wrong, why it got to a boiling point and how you can approach that person with a cooler head,” says Huhman.
If an outburst or loud argument goes down in front of coworkers, Haefner recommends addressing the bad behavior right away. “There has to be a negotiation—if no one talks about it, it’s not a good situation.”
Experts recommend sitting down with the other person in a private setting to review what happened and resolve the issue. “These situations aren’t about who’s right and who’s wrong. If you were wrong, point out your faults and mistakes—it’s one of the best things you can do in the situation,” says Huhman. Stick to the facts during the sit down and don’t let emotions steer the conversation.
Once the situation is resolved, move on and don’t let it interfere with workflow. “If other people ask, you want to tell them that you were having a discussion and it was resolved,” says Augustine.
“You may or may not get over it, just be aware of where those hotspots are,” says Haefner. She suggests being mindful of people’s personalities and knowing that you have to communicate, but that you won’t always get along with everyone.
You Made a Mistake in a Presentation…
When you’ve made a mistake on a client presentation, own up to the mistake, advises Huhman. “Admit fault—suggest a way to fix the situation and a solution to avoid it in the future.”
If you’re in the middle of the presentation when you spot a mistake, figuring out whether it’s worth bringing up—spelling errors may not be as egregious as writing 100% instead of 10%. “If you sent out a company-wide message that gave out the wrong information, you’ll need to re-send the message and highlight the fix. It doesn’t hurt to address this with your boss later and apologize.”
Turn mistakes into learning experiences to avoid recurrences. “Repeating a mistake is the worst blunder you can make in the workplace,” says Huhman. It can show lack of attention to detail and reflect poorly on the quality of your work. “It will look like you don’t want to be there and some managers may start looking for your replacement.”
“If your boss makes the mistake, you do need to bring it up but in a tactful way,” says Huhman. Don’t place blame but instead point out the error and why it needs to be corrected. If possible, outline a plan to avoid this in the future, even if that means taking on more work. This could be a great way to manage up and propel your career. “Anytime you can make your boss look like a hero, you then become your boss’s hero,” says Huhman.