Today, my friend asked for advice. He caught an employee in a lie. When he asked the employee to work on Saturday, he said he was going out of town. And of course, the inevitable happened: my friend heard a secretary talking about how she ran into the guy with his kids at the movies over the weekend.
That wasn't even the big mistake the employee made. The big mistake that can ruin your career opportunities or your personal happiness is failing to remedy your mistake IMMEDIATELY. Owning your mistake and making a quick apology can help you recoup your stature and even make you look like a problem solver in some situations.
In my friend's scenario, the employee knew there was a REALLY good chance the secretary would tell her boss. Instead of marching into his office and addressing the situation head on, explaining that his plans had changed or that he values his family time, the guy hid from his boss all week, trying to avoid conversation. Now, my friend had lost respect and trust for the employee.
We all mess up and make mistakes and when they're work related, they can be tricky and costly.
The scenario reminded me of some great tips I read in USA Weekend. They address those mistakes you make from saying the wrong thing. Here's how to get out of trouble when that happens:
1. Making an inappropriate joke. When you get into a hole, don't keep digging. Don't try another joke to offset the first. Acknowledge you offended and apologize.
2. Caught talking about someone behind his or her back. Don't pretend nothing happened. Own your gaffe. Your apology depends on the offended party — you might want to go short and sweet, "That was out of line, I'm sorry. Next time I'll talk to you directly." If your boss or a manager is the offended party, try this: "I'm so sorry about what I said. I was frustrated and let it get the best of me. I hope you'll be able to forgive me because I truly enjoy working here. I won't talk behind your back in the future."
3. Insulting someone without realizing it. Own your misstep and try to deflect. Let's say you make fun of people who ballroom dance and your manager then tells you he loves to ballroom dance, "You do? We'll I've been wrong about other things, that's for sure!"
I've heard many CEOs say a key part of career climbing is knowing when you made a mistake and fixing it FAST. Letting small mistakes turn into bigger problems will cause you to suffer personally and professionally.
How about making the resolution for 2012 that Outback Steakhouse CEO Elizabeth Smith abides by: acknowledge a mistake (not always easy to admit), fix the problem and move on. She calls it, "failing faster."
(Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at email@example.com. Read her columns and blog at http://worklifebalancingact.com/.)
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