It happens to everyone - one minute you're rushing through your normal workday and before you know it, you've spilled coffee all over a customer. Or maybe you realize you've just sent an inappropriate email to everyone you work with. Or even worse, your manager walks around the corner and catches you badmouthing her.
You've committed a major faux pas. Although it feels like the end of the world right now, it doesn't have to be the end of your career. Here are five steps to ease your personal embarrassment and start to repair the damage.
It doesn't matter what happened - a sincere apology should be your first move. It may be especially hard to fess up to a mistake, but you need to swallow your pride, admit what you've done and then say you're sorry. Take a moment to gather yourself if necessary, but do it as soon as possible. It's always best to tell the truth right away, because getting defensive or lying about the situation will only make it worse.
Offer to right the wrong.
If you've broken something or made a mess, offer to pay for the damage or clean up. It may not make the situation disappear but it will show that you're sincere about your apology and really want to make things better. If the damage can't be fixed that easily (like hurting someone's feelings) try taking the person aside and having a talk about what happened. It won't be fun, but it may be the only way to repair the emotional damage you've caused.
Inject a little humor.
It may seem almost impossible to find anything funny about your current situation, but if you can, it can make a world of difference. Getting those who've witnessed your mistake to laugh along with you can turn a potentially disastrous situation into a humorous story. You'll have to be careful with this one though. If the person you've wronged is really angry, making a joke could make them think that you're making fun of them and it will only make them angrier.
Learn from your mistakes.
Use this embarrassing situation to your advantage and take it to heart. Double-check your emails before you send them or better yet, don't send anything you wouldn't want the whole world to read. If you're clumsy, take your time when handing hot coffee or ask someone else to help you set up the window displays. And if you've been gossiping or telling inappropriate jokes at work, stop. You've made this mistake once - now it's up to you not to do it again.
Know that time will make it better.
Right now you might think that hiding under a rock for the rest of your life sounds like a really good idea. But know that as the days pass, it will get better. It might sound cliched, but time really does heal all wounds - tomorrow will be a little bit better and next week you will feel totally different than you do today. Who knows? Eventually you may find yourself laughing about the whole thing when you realize that a work faux pas doesn't have to be the end of the world.