Making Your Words and Actions Count After Workplace Gaffes - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

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Most of us have been there. From unwittingly mispronouncing someone’s name to accidentally sending a sensitive e-mail to the wrong person to calling a co-worker a derogatory name, office gaffes are common.

Most are momentarily embarrassing but not memorable, but some can cause resentment, ignite office discord, and prompt your employers to rethink your competence. If the offender doesn’t express regret and correct their actions, such embarrassing or reckless mistakes have the potential to ruin their career.

Every awkward situation is unique and should be handled differently, but you can’t go wrong if you remember to stay focused on the work at hand, says Kelly Morgan, owner of Sage Professional Strategies, a career coaching and human resources consulting company.

If a workplace faux pas has got your job on the line, follow these steps to revamp your reputation, displace peer mistrust, and get your career back on track.

Take feedback seriously. Ask for and be open to receive constructive advice on how to improve. If feedback comes in the form of a performance evaluation then go through each point to make sure you understand each area that needs improvement.

If you’ve made a huge blunder the biggest mistake you can make is to not take accountability for it, says Adrienne Graham, CEO of Hues Consulting & Management Inc., a recruiting company that also offers career strategy management.

Think back on meetings, events, and conversations over the phone or via e-mail, and ask yourself how others may have perceived what you communicated. Try to look at the situation from other people’s points of view.

“Disregard what your intentions were,” says Morgan, author of Journey to a Place Called There (Scribe Etc.; $16.95). “What matters is how the person [heard you]. It could be your body language, the words that you use or how [the words come out].”

Apologize. “Etiquette dictates that apologies are necessary no matter how small or big the mess up is,” says Graham. A public apology is not always necessary, but if your snafu affects a group in a project, then address the incident and let people know that this is not how you usually conduct business.

If you offended just one person, pull them to the side or give them a call later and apologize, but do not send an e-mail because they tend to be very impersonal and it is hard to detect tones and intent in an email, says Graham, author of Go Ahead Talk to Strangers: The Modern Girls Guide to Fearless Networking (Empower Me! Corporation; $19.99).

When you apologize, use “I” statements, says Morgan. These will shift the ownership back on you. Tell your employer or the offended party that you acknowledge what you did was wrong, how it affected your co-workers, clients, or employer, and what you will do to fix the problem or improve the situation.

Adjust your actions. “If there are no actions that come after [the apology] then you’ve dug your hole even deeper,” says Morgan. “Make intentional adjustments in your behavior, words, and tone of voice.”

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.