Have you ever been embarrassed at work – I mean truly horrified?
About two years ago, I was walking with my boss and my boss’s boss to a big meeting (where I was presenting by the way). I was carrying a projector and all of my notes, so I didn’t have a free hand for the handrail on the stairs.
Yep – I tumbled down a half a flight of stairs. Papers went flying, the projector broke into a million pieces, and my pants split right down the middle. Needless to say, both bosses got a big glimpse of my bright pink undies. I wanted to run away. I wanted to cry. But somehow, I picked myself up and continued to the meeting (sitting instead of standing of course). Besides learning to always hold the handrail and never wear pink panties again, I ended up learning a few things about how to react to a seriously embarrassing episode at work.
It is going to happen. No matter how hard you try, at some point in your professional career you are probably going to do something embarrassing – perhaps even mortifying. Whether it’s walking around with your fly down or accidentally sending a personal email to your boss, embarrassing workplace moments are probably going to happen to you at some point. You may find yourself wanting to crawl in a hole, but the truth is that you will live another day. Even the worst humiliations will eventually blow over. In fact, overcoming these little mishaps can actually make you stronger. Here are a few tips to overcome embarrassing moments in the workplace.
In hindsight, your embarrassing moment might be humorous. A year from now you might be telling the story and laughing at yourself, so you might as well start now. Your coworkers are going to talk about it anyway. Own your story, and laugh it off. So what if you fell off of the stage during a presentation? I bet no one will forget your message! Fell asleep during a meeting? I bet your snoring kept others awake.
Show your face.
Resist the urge to put your head underground. Doing so will only prolong the inevitable. Unless you plan to leave your job, you’ll have to face those people someday. Hiding is only going to further diminish your confidence. Remember that sometimes what separates successful people from those who fail has nothing at all to do with talent. They just keep coming back after setbacks instead of giving up. So don’t give up. Show your face.
Put it behind you.
Guess what? Your faux pas is already over. It’s in your past now. That toilet paper clinging to your shoe is no longer there. The horrible thing you accidentally said during a meeting is already spoken. You can’t take it back. While you should definitely acknowledge the slip-up, refrain from over analyzing or over-apologizing, which will just keep reminding others of what happened. Let it blow over. In a couple of weeks, everyone will have moved on to something else. The faster you move forward, the less memorable the incident will be.
Embarrassing moments happen to everyone. No one is perfect, and it is okay to mess up. As horrifying as it seems at the moment, you will survive the catastrophe. Rather than letting the moment define you, own it and use it as an excuse to better yourself.
Originally published on February 16, 2017.