Making Your Words and Actions Count After Workplace Gaffes

How to rebuild your reputation and trust with coworkers

For example, if you’ve made off-color comments to a coworker about their culture, ethnicity, or lifestyle, don’t just apologize, actively seek to take a class on diversity. Follow through on whatever you said you would do or changes you said you would make so that your actions will show that your apology was sincere. Try talking to your human resources department or consult with a career counselor to get an objective opinion about your progress.

Simply because you apologize and begin to demonstrate more positive changes won’t mean that other employees will forget and forgive. “People are like big cruise ships. You can’t turn a cruise ship in a couple of seconds. It takes a little while,” Morgan says. “The employee has to allow the affected employees their own time to assess the new situation.”

Forgive yourself. Finally, don’t continue to beat yourself up. People make mistakes. “Give yourself permission to fail just as you give yourself permission to be successful,” says Morgan. “Learn from what you’ve done wrong, but realize how you react to it is what will make the difference.”


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  • Arthur


    Great article! Alot of what we experience in the work place with “gaffes” is a lack of understanding and communication. Your cruise ship analogy is a great example of changing our thoughts and behaviors towards others and gaining a positive reputation.

  • Kimberly Y. Nwokedi, J.D.

    Very informative. I particulary enjoyed your last two quotes about giving yourself permission to fail and realizing that how you react….sets the tone in what difference it makes. Great advice.

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  • Very informative. I have been dealing with this for years at a small firm and at times had difficulty dealing with it to the point where I have started taking notes. The spirtual side of me told me to just pray for the individuals and not feed into it. The natural side makes me want to report the situation to human resources. This is my first time in my career that I have dealt with this most frequently in the small firm, compare to a larger firm that I was employed at for years. You would hope that people would just chill out based on your reactions to some of the comments but you have to compose yourself to handle the situation in a professional manner to cover yourself because we as people of color are quickly subjected to be labled in the work place.

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