How to Bounce Back From an Embarrassing Work Blunder

Work Blunder Robert Half International

Have you ever called a colleague by the wrong name, tripped in the hallway or spilled coffee on your suit?

You can take solace in the fact that you're not alone.

We asked more than 1,300 senior managers to describe their most embarrassing moments on the job. Survey responses ran the gamut from funny faux pas to mortifying mishaps.

For example:

  • "I conducted a training session with my zipper down."

  • "While interviewing a job candidate, I fell asleep."

  • "I said something inappropriate about my boss and found out he was standing right behind me."

  • "I answered the phone using the wrong company name."

  • "I sent an offer letter to the wrong candidate."

  • "I called my boss 'my love' by complete accident."

As the anecdotes above prove, nobody is immune to the occasional office gaffe. The key is to understand how to rebound from blunders with poise and professionalism.

Here are some tips:

Stay calm, cool and collected

It's easy to become frazzled after realizing you've made a mistake. Instead of allowing your mind to run wild with worst-case, "what if" scenarios, take a moment to collect yourself. When your nerves are rattled, the first response that pops into your head may not be the most effective or appropriate. So, take a few deep breaths, maintain your composure and carefully think through your next step.

Face the music

Own up to your "oops" moments. For instance, let's say you're listening to some colleagues gripe about Jen from marketing, who unexpectedly walks by at the very second you weigh in with a critical comment of your own.

While you might be tempted to run from the building or hide in the bathroom until the workday ends, it's better to face the music and make amends. Pretending it didn't happen or avoiding the offended individual only amps up the awkwardness. You're eventually going to have to deal with the hurt feelings you've caused; it's smarter to do so sooner than later.

Say 'I'm sorry' with sincerity

The greatest form of damage control is an authentic apology. Taking responsibility and showing remorse and concern for those you've inconvenienced or insulted diffuses tension.

On the other hand, you'll dig yourself in deeper by making excuses, becoming defensive or playing the blame game. The same goes for feigning regret. When people are upset, they want to know you understand the seriousness of the slip-up and will take steps to ensure it won't happen again. Half-heartedly saying, "I'm sorry, but it's really not that big of a deal" or accusing the person of being oversensitive is guaranteed to generate additional ill will.

Use humor to your advantage

Many cringe-worthy goofs affect just one person: you. If you spill iced tea all over yourself during a meeting or send a silly but harmless e-mail to the wrong co-worker, have a sense of humor about the situation. Letting them know the joke is on you shows you don't take yourself too seriously.

In addition, being able to chuckle at yourself puts others at ease and gives them permission to enjoy an innocent laugh. Lightheartedness and a little vulnerability will make you more approachable to those you work with, too.

Move on

As author and philosopher Henry David Thoreau advised: "One cannot too soon forget his errors and misdemeanors; for to dwell upon them is to add to the offense." The point is that brooding over a misstep and over-apologizing doesn't help you or anyone else. In fact, letting yourself get distracted by something you can't change actually increases the chances you'll make another error.

Learn from your mistakes, rectify them to the best of your ability and then let them go. In most cases, the faster you regain your focus and get back on track, the less memorable the incident will be.

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Robert Half International is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, please visit For additional career advice, follow us on Twitter at @roberthalf.

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My old supervisor (who is a real b-tch) was upset that I did not want to attend a party for a coworker who was leaving for another position, and she went as far as to tell me that my temp assignment was in jeopardy. I was a temp, with low wages and no medical coverage, and you threaten my job because I don't want to attend some b's party and everyone had to chip in $16, I only made $12 an hour with kids and bills. So I threatened her back, ended up going to court having to pay a fine. I'm not sorry, I'm only sorry I had to pay a fine. It was a state job through a temp agency, so I did get my money back as far as I'm concerned with the unemployment extensions and $25 every week in addition which was called a stimulus. So Ha Ha. So F-ck these bosses. Don't let me hit the lottery, now that'll be a show and some pay backs. Bosses don't think you can treat employees any old way and get away with it. Ha! My mother used to work at a company where someone put their manager in his car trunk over the weekend, after that he eventually left the company. I don't think he knew who did it, and was lucky that's all they did.

April 26 2011 at 1:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The workplace, like everything else in life, is unfair. Humans are vicious rats that walk upright. They're okay as long as theres enough food and mating partners to go around. But when there is a problem, they'll cut you to pieces and laugh about it.

I like it when the head of the firm calls the company a "family." Some family. I'd feel safer in a Louisiana knife fight. Thats where a man ties his forearm to the other man's forearm and they go at it with bowie knives.

April 25 2011 at 8:10 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I would just remain calm, be sincere, and show my employers that I will do better.

Of course, no one is perfect. It is so important to be open and admit your mistakes so that people will not see/think of you in a negative way.

April 25 2011 at 7:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I hate my boss she's a little rich snit that always had everything handed to her, I'm doing my best to see that she gets her comeuppance.

April 25 2011 at 7:52 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I pulled a high school prank on my 20-something boss(I'm 41) a few months ago and got away with it. I don't think it helped my popularity. THe company was understanding about it from what I can tell.

April 25 2011 at 7:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Mocking someone is exceptionally childish - mocking your boss is suicidal. 'nuff said...

April 25 2011 at 7:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sandra-Who is the real idiot? The list of people you mention are more successful than you and you have two degrees? Maybe you should listen to life's lessons and stop assuming a college education entitles you or makes you brilliant. This country wasn't founded by education alone.

April 25 2011 at 7:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kelly Jo Herrmann

I was a new hire at a new job in a position that I'd never done before. Because I am quick-learned and came highly recommended, I got the job. Well, when a new hire has 4 different bosses, who all say how to do a job four different ways, it gets REALLY confusing. So, I'd end up apologizing and try to do the job the way each liked, melding paperwork the best way possible, while finding one of my coworkers was totally screwing up her responsibilities and blaming them on me. Eventually, I got pulled into the office manager's office, and found out that a couple ladies had been lying and spreading gossip about me (that's what I gathered from the lies I had to defend myself against) and ended up apologizing over and over and over because they wanted me to become a doormat, and apologize for these ladies' mistakes. I didn't last more than 6 months. They put me on notice a week before my honeymoon, and then fired me a week after I returned. That, right there, was hands down the most toxic environment. I didn't get to enjoy my honeymoon because I knew I was going to lose my job and that those two horrid women were going to get me fired, fi it was the last thing they did. One outright told me she didn't want to work with me, ever. The whole time I just stared at her, while she had the most horrid tantrum. It was totally odd. I should also mention the verbal abuse from that lady, who also berated me so bad that one of our coworkers took me to lunch to make sure I was ok. The nasty coworker would do that to her and anyone 'below' her, but never to a manager. So, I broke the rule of apologizing over and over, according to the article. I'm soo glad I don't work there anymore.

April 25 2011 at 7:24 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kelly Jo Herrmann's comment

It's a common and very human, but once is good, a show of remorse is good, but then moving on is the best, even if there's a chill in the air. But it also wasn't you, it was them and a bullshit office mentality that let something like scapegoating like this go on. You much better off without them.

April 25 2011 at 7:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have never heard of any way of fixing a situation where you mock your boss and they over hear the comment. Only way out of that one is if there boss doesn't like them either.

April 25 2011 at 7:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bccmconsulting's comment

A forthright apology and accepting responsibility (which also means accepting the consequences)is all you can do. If the boss can't let it go, then it's time to fire up the old resume. But the point of the article is that people make mistakes and can learn and recover from them, even if it means moving on to a new job. And the article really only covers faux-pas, not even big mistakes.

April 25 2011 at 7:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Most bosses deserve to be mocked, since I moved back to NC; all but 2 of my business mgrs. had either GED's, one supervisor for the City had a 9th grade education, and high school diplomas. I am unemployed with 2 college degrees, 1 college certificate and a trade school certificate.

People don't like it when you are smarter and work harder than you do, and I had to answer to the above morons!

April 25 2011 at 6:51 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Sandra's comment

Sandra, I know people with GED's that are very successfull. Look at it this way--they did more with a GED than you did with 2 degree's and a trade school certificate. They were your bosses.

April 25 2011 at 8:17 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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