A blunder is a stupid or careless mistake, not a serious error (like pulling the wrong tooth) or a major faux pas (like when an executive client did body shots off his sexy assistant at the company holiday party, an act that cost him both his job and marriage…) Because we are all human and nobody is perfect, we all make work blunders occasionally.
My most embarrassing blunder occurred years ago when my boss at the time came to hear me give a presentation at a client company. While he was making some closing remarks at the end of my talk, I thought it would be a good idea to grab our Power Point disc out of the laptop that was in the center of a circle of desks for attendees. My plan was to gracefully slip under a desk, quietly grab the disc and be ready to leave when he finished. Instead, when I went under the desk I realized it had a back panel that left only a 10” gap between the desk and the floor. Having already went under the desk, I went for it… I began doing a military crawl under the back panel of the desk towards the center of the circle…
When I had squeezed myself about midway through, my boss (who was still presenting) spotted me and gasped, “Oh, Joyce!” Suddenly, all eyes in the room were on me as I was wedged under the desk in my suit. In a rush of adrenaline, I popped up into a standing position in the center of the circle of desks, inspiring “ooohs” and “aaahs” and even some clapping from the surprised participants. I was blood red, tried to act composed, grabbed the disc, and gladly walked through a space between desks that two participants readily made for me to exit.
Back in the car, my boss could not stop laughing. He was laughing so hard he was crying and couldn’t drive for 10 minutes (all of which I spent begging him not to tell a soul at our company.) He said I was a fine presenter, he just recommended I never crawl on the floor at a client company again… I was embarrassed for weeks and the event still causes me to blush.
After nearly 20 years counseling professionals, I recommend the following techniques to recover from a work blunder:
Don’t be defensive. Save everyone some time and skip the denial, excuses and rationalizations for why you did the dumb thing you did.
Take responsibility. Accept what you did and learn from it. Think about how you will handle things differently the next time.
Make amends. Apologize, if necessary. Fix whatever you can.
Get perspective. As long as nobody died and you’re not in jail, the blunder will be forgotten and things will return to normal. Try to “zoom out” and see the event from a greater perspective.
Get over yourself. We can all be narcissistic and feel like we are in the forefronts of others’ minds. The truth is everyone is self-absorbed and people are thinking about us a lot less than we imagine. Once you’ve gotten the support you need from friends, stop talking about it and let blunder be forgotten.
Forgive yourself. Cut yourself some slack. We all make mistakes as part of the human condition. Show yourself the compassion you would have for somebody you love.
Learn to laugh at yourself. Have a sense of humor and be willing to be the butt of the joke. Others will appreciate this quality and it will also help you to release your feelings. (I did eventually share this story with my colleagues, which was both cathartic and bonding.)
Look at the good parts. Stop your mind from obsessively replaying the embarrassing event, and look at what you did well. Acknowledge your strengths (I tried to remind myself that at least my presentation went well.)
Assess your stress. Blunders are more likely to occur when we are stressed out or distracted. Use the blunder as a wake up call that you may have too much on your plate or may need to boost your self-care.
Let go. Imagine you are breathing in what you need (like confidence, peace or strength) and out what you don’t (embarrassment, shame or guilt.) Notice where you hold tension in your body, stretch and let it go. Remember, this too, shall pass.