Reputation Damage Control
However it happened, no matter the details, whatever the reason, it happened. You screwed up. Big time.
Maybe you forwarded a nasty internal email to a bigwig client. Or you completely slacked for an entire month while mourning the jerk who cheated on you. Or you got a bit too friendly with your McDreamy boss at the company cocktail party…right in front of his wife.
Whatever went down, even if the details are fuzzy, one thing is clear: your reputation is in need of some serious damage control.
If necessary, allow yourself 30 minutes to cry, wail, panic, bang your fists against the floor, or whatever else you need to get out of your system. Then start dealing with the issue immediately. The longer you wait to address a problem, the more anxiety you’ll build up and the more snide remarks will spread through your office.
First and foremost, you need to assess the damage. Sometimes ambitious girls like us can blow mini-mistakes totally out of proportion. Find a trusted colleague or friend and explain the situation. Ask for that person’s opinion about whether the incident is a reputation-ruiner or just a minor faux pas requiring a simple apology, such as getting caught texting your best friend at a meeting or calling a board member by the wrong name.
If you have seriously hurt your reputation, immediately acknowledge your bad behavior to your boss or other appropriate superior. Owning it is the first step to overcoming it. Set up a chat and explain that you know you have tarnished your reputation. Apologize for any harm done, and then state your intention to improve your behavior. That’s it: acknowledge, apologize, act. You might ask, “What can I do over the next few weeks or months to win back your trust/respect?” Every workplace and situation is different, so specifics can be helpful. If you don’t feel comfortable asking this or you don’t receive any support, here are some good general reputation revivers:
Play it safe. This is not the time to interrupt people at meetings, ask for vacation time, walk in ten minutes late in the morning, or stand out in any negative way. Lay low for a while.
Don’t dwell. If a colleague brings up your past mistakes, do your best to change the subject. Your “news cycle” will surely be overtaken by some new gossip as long as you don’t rehash your situation every day in the cafeteria.
Show results. You can do a lot for your reputation by kicking butt at your job duties. Now would be a good time to review your upcoming projects and goals and do your best to exceed expectations.
Move on. Finally, there is one more action to consider. If you made a super-big, super-bad error and can’t find a way to recover, you may need to wave a white flag and get going. Sometimes it’s better to start fresh elsewhere, with a clean slate— and a clean reputation.