Being in conflict with a work mate is a normal thing. People may quarrel, hurt each other’s feelings, act inappropriately and end up being in awkward situations. The problem comes in when this person is your workmate and whether you like it or not have to work together and see each other probably every day.
We all have awkward encounters from time to time. We say things that we don’t mean, we make a (literal and figurative) mess, we forget people’s names, and we make mistakes, even at work. But while social encounters can be forgiven and forgotten, business etiquette needs to be treated with a bit more sensitivity. After all, your career is on the line. Often people let mistakes and crises cripple—even paralyze—them, but bouncing back from roadblocks in your career is not as daunting as you might think. I really believe that every crisis is an opportunity; most errors are reversible, so it is important to remember that how you respond in tough times shows who you are as a person as much, if not more, than how you are in good times. In other words, those totally awkward office blunders that you think will haunt you forever are actually fixable, if you handle them properly.
Here are some tips on business etiquette to help you bounce back from mistakes at work, because let’s be honest, they will happen. And they will probably happen often; but it is how you recover from those sometimes embarrassing, sometimes offensive, always uncomfortable situations that will determine your future both in and outside the office.
Keep Things in Perspective
First of all, stop over-thinking every last detail of your awkward interaction. Chances are it wasn’t nearly as bad as you think it was. We all tend to exaggerate memories until we start to convince ourselves that we’re going to get fired for offending our boss, when in reality he or she has already forgotten what you said. Take a deep breath and focus on moving forward. That may involve owning up to your mistakes (more on that below), apologizing, or simply leaving the blunder behind, but either way, you need to take action and stop stressing about how badly you screwed up.
Put Yourself in the Other Person’s Shoes
If you are worried you said or did something wrong or you offended a boss or colleague, take a moment to think about how they must feel. While you’re terrified that you royally screwed up your career with one stupid comment, there’s a chance that they barely heard you and never even registered what you were saying. And on the flip side, if you have ever sent an email or text complaining about a coworker, but you accidentally sent it to that very coworker (EEK!) then you know how awkward it can feel, and how guilty you feel for being insensitive and cruel. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and then choose the best and most mature way to handle the situation. If you were on the receiving side what do you wish someone would say to you? Use this situation as an opportunity to have a candid conversation about what is really bothering you. The initial interaction might be awkward, but the result will be worth it.
Speaking of candid, yes, it is important to speak what is on your mind, but remember there is often a kind, yet direct way to do it. You can be honest without being rude, and you can share your opinion in a constructive way. If someone is being lazy on a group project, tell him or her that you need to better communicate and work as a team. If someone shows up late every day, offer some tips to be more efficient with their morning routine and their commute.
Apologize When Necessary
The number one rule when it comes to fixing your mistakes is that you have to own up to your wrongdoings. According to Aaron Lazare, author, professor of psychiatry, Chancellor and Dean of University of Massachusetts Medical School, and expert on human interaction, “a genuine apology offered and accepted is one of the most profound interactions of civilized people. It has the power to restore damaged relationship. If done correctly, an apology can heal humiliation and generate forgiveness.” This is true in your personal life and also your professional life. Even the greatest and most successful leaders and innovators have to learn the art of humility and how to offer a genuine apology if they hope to succeed. If you want to bounce back from an office blunder, take a second to gather your thoughts, and then say you are sorry.