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Deborah Jane Willimott

Deborah Jane Willimott

June 24, 2015


Embarrassing Moments at Work

Most of the time we handle deadlines and dealing with difficult clients—or bosses—with perfect aplomb. But every now and again, even the sassiest office female can stress out and commit a serious blooper. Solutions guru Scott Solder of You Need This, a Britain-based consulting firm, explains how to come out on top even after a personal cubicle crisis.

The Blunder: You’re bad-mouthing your boss—and she’s standing right behind you.

The Fix: Look her in the eye and ask to schedule an immediate meeting. Why? She’s expecting a mumbling apology, but by asking her something direct and surprising, her anger is derailed and you stop the problem from publicly escalating. In the meeting, apologize for being indiscreet and explain what your complaints were—with savvy solutions at the ready. Play it properly and you’ll walk out of that meeting with her thanking you.

The Blunder: You make a massive project-related error—one that will take a lot of time and money to fix.

The Fix: As soon as you realize the error, take yourself to a non-work-related area and ask yourself “What’s the practical solution?” Avoid kvetching with colleagues, which will only make you more anxious about your screwup. Then ask to see your boss somewhere unusual—this one-off location unconsciously signals that this is a one-off conversation and therefore a one-off error. Explain everything, hide nothing, and provide solutions.

The Blunder: You stage a very public (and emotional) desk meltdown.

The Fix: Stress happens—and emotions can’t always be scheduled for when you’re alone. Exit immediately for the bathroom. Breathe deeply. Reapply your makeup. Let it go. Then defuse any gossip by acknowledging your “scene” in a group e-mail to all witnesses. Apologize, explain it was pressure—that you’re feeling better now and it won’t happen again. Thank them for their understanding (a psych trick that leaves those concerned feeling as if they have already forgiven you). The next day, come in looking fantastic. It sends the message that you are back—and mean business.

The Blunder: You’re busted by your manager for making too many personal calls and spending too much time surfing the Web at work.

The Fix: Apologize immediately. If you were booking a holiday, acknowledge your blunder but explain that the issue was “time-sensitive.” If, however, you were laughing at the fat guy dancing on You Tube, simply explain you needed a five minute de-stress moment. Immediately offer to make up the time on your lunch or after work.

The Blunder: You thought you’d put a very important client on hold…but hadn’t. And they heard every last insulting thing you just said about them.

The Fix: This is all about maintaining the client. Say “I’m very sorry about what you just heard. It’s no excuse, but it has been a very stressful day. I do hope you’ll accept my apology.” This final phrase is what experts call an “embedded command”—the phrasing makes the listener less inclined to say no. As soon as you hang up, go to your boss and explain, as the client will doubtless ring them with their (dramatized and emotional) version of events. Ask if there is anything you can give the client, like a discount or product—which your boss (not you) should then offer to defuse the situation.