Embarrassing Moment At Work? How To Recover Your Dignity

By Susan Ricker

Everybody makes mistakes, and sometimes people find themselves in embarrassing situations. Your first instinct may be to hide until things blow over, but there are better ways to cope. Here are some ways to minimize the damage.

%VIRTUAL-hiringNow-topCity%Acknowledge the mistake with a joke.
Acknowledge it with humor.
Craig Griffiths, founder of Ask Find Buy, says, "If I am embarrassed, I raise the issue acknowledging my embarrassment so we can all have a laugh and move on. Once I attended the wrong meeting. I was supposed to be attending a community funding group, but accidentally wound up at a lesbian group meeting discussing other community issues. Each person introduced themselves before it finally got to me. I just said 'Hi, I am Craig, I am in the wrong meeting, but I can take the minutes.' All the women laughed their heads off. As long as there is no negative impact, having a laugh and moving on is good."

Deal with the situation.
Ignoring an uncomfortable circumstance at work will only hold the embarrassment over your head. "Not wanting to deal with an embarrassing situation can make matters worse," says Vivian Scott, author of "Conflict Resolution at Work for Dummies." "My advice is to own it, make apologies, and/or laugh about it. Years ago, I responded to an email my manager had sent about wanting us to work more with an individual outside our group. I replied with a scathing account of my experiences with the person, only to find out she was also included in the email and received my response. I decided to own it right then and there and walked to her office for a chat. Instead of sugarcoating it, I apologized for not bringing issues to her attention sooner. The two of us worked through how we could more effectively work together and it became a nonissue."

Keep your poise.
"The best way to deal with embarrassing situations is to be graceful and smile," says Doris Jeanette, a licensed psychologist. "If you are relaxed, it will relax the situation and allow others to reduce their judgments and anxiety."

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If a co-worker is the one who's embarrassed

If the embarrassment comes from a personal problem that's affecting a co-worker, be considerate and brief when you bring up the issue. For example, if a co-worker has an unpleasant odor, Jeanne Miller Rodriguez, an instructor at Sacramento State University's College of Continuing Education, says, "Speak privately with the employee. Be kind and diplomatic in how you present the issue. Do not mention who complained. Just say that you had noticed and wanted to bring it to his attention. Emphasize his positive qualities relative to performance, personality and demeanor. Do not assume the issue is a result of poor hygiene; there could be a medical issue at play."

If a work-related incident is causing embarrassment for a co-worker or employee, know what you're going to say and how you'll say it to keep the confrontation brief.

"I was new to management, and one of my interns made a very careless screw-up in an email with a client, which reflected badly on my professional brand and the company's image as a whole," says Brittany Dowell, director of publishing relations at Digital Talent Agents. "The intern needed to be reprimanded, but I dreaded the awkward encounter of telling someone they royally messed up. I prepared for the meeting as fully as possible by writing out exactly what I needed to say. The experience taught me that receiving an embarrassing reprimand from a manager might be just as awkward and embarrassing for that manager to deliver."

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