Everyone has experienced embarrassing work moments that they'd rather forget: inopportune trips and falls, unfortunate typos, Freudian slips. But admit it. Once the initial humiliation wears off, workplace mistakes are actually kind of funny.
Still, while it's virtuous to be able to laugh at one's own embarrassing moments, it's much more fun to laugh at those of other people. To that end, six workers confess their or their co-workers' most humbling workplace moments.
"I was giving a speech onstage to a group of conservative bankers. I didn't want to perspire through my jacket, so I put self-stick panty liners in my armpits -- thinking they would stay and absorb.
"Turns out they aren't as sticky as they advertise. One crawled down my sleeve and fell on the floor. When I saw it, I immediately picked it up and scrunched it up, hoping no one noticed. Then the other side did the same thing. So I stopped mid-speech and asked if anyone saw. Some nodded yes with a perplexed look, so I explained what I had done and there was lots of laughter, deservedly, at my expense. I asked the audience, 'What did you think was going on?' and one man raised his hand and volunteered, 'I thought you were doing a magic trick.'
"We all had a good laugh; they appreciated my honesty and humanness. I proceeded with my speech. Years later I still occasionally see the man who said he thought I was doing a magic trick." -- Debra Benton, speaker and executive coach, Benton Management Resources
Watch out for elephants
"When I worked as a young copywriter for a fairly large ad agency, they assigned me the local municipal zoo account.
"There was a young, prim and proper female copywriter who had been hired around the same time as me, and after my second or third research trip to the zoo she asked if she could come along. We were having a pleasant afternoon stroll through the zoo and she stopped to linger at the elephant exhibit as I rounded the corner to check out the baboons.
"A few minutes later, I heard her scream. I ran back toward the elephants to see her dressed-for-success suit covered in muck and straw. One of the elephants had hosed her down from head to toe! As I realized what had happened, my knees buckled and I collapsed in laughter to the ground. I had to make a couple more field trips to the zoo, but she declined my invitations to tag along." -- Cliff Stepp, California-based marketing consultant
"In an attempt to be frugal, I made roasted red pepper soup to take to work for lunch. When it came time to enjoy my fat-free soupy goodness, the Thermos I placed in the microwave exploded open with a gunshot sound. Naturally the secretary ran over to see what the gunshot was and saw a thick, bloodlike substance all over my face -- so she started screaming.
"The day ended with my hopelessly trying to scrub red pepper from the ceiling while all of the employees watched me, discussing the physics behind my red pepper soup explosion while my boss paced around assessing the damage. Apparently pepper releases gases when heated and cooled rapidly. That's what I get for skipping chemistry for that extra art class.
"My attempt to save 49 cents on soup cost my company a freshly painted wall and two of those extra-fancy acoustical ceiling tiles. They didn't fire me. They just call me 'Pepper Spray' now." -- Stephanie Yuhas, writer and filmmaker, www.AmericanGoulash.org
A vintage mishap
"Drinking with colleagues is rather like watching a hippo try to ice-skate. It's all fun and games until someone gets slammed. Now I'm not a big drinker, but I do have a tendency to be very clumsy ('Is that a fragile item? Smash!'), and this time was no different.
"In a heated exchange ... over the meaning of the word 'bar-tab,' I swung my arm around to gesture pointedly toward the table of my colleagues. What I didn't realize at the time was that my boss was standing right behind me with a glass of wine in her hand. My sudden movement slapped the glass into her face, causing the contents to spray all over her newly permed head.
"Although I've never personally experienced what it's like to get wine in the eyes, her screams of 'It burns! It burns!' led me to believe the experience was rather unpleasant. Talk about an 'acidic vintage.' Let's just say that it's quite hard to recover when you throw a glass of wine into your boss's face. Luckily she had a sense of humor and my only punishment was dealing with recurring jokes from my colleagues." -- Clea Baker, account executive, IMG Media
"I had just hired a young man for my office. It was his first day on the job, and in his first hour one of the fluorescent lights went out. I asked him if he wouldn't mind changing it, and of course, he didn't. He hopped up on a desk, switched the bulb, then promptly jumped down.
"It was as he landed that the seam of his pants blew out. 'KRRSCHW!' He looked mortified at the sound of tearing fabric. I, ever the professional, cracked up. With tears in my eyes I told him to go to the bathroom, take off his pants and give them to me. I sewed up the seam for him. Could you imagine having your new boss sew up your pants on your first day of a new job? I knew from that moment on that he was going to be a great employee." -- Melissa Hill, author, HoneyBeePublishing.com
"The queen of multitasking, I was sitting in the back of the room observing a training I was hosting while simultaneously working on my annual operating-plan budget and listening in on a conference call.
"Nature called, so off to the bathroom I went. Working on autopilot, the phone and the coffee cup came with me. I went into the bathroom, put the cup down, and went into the stall still listening to the conference call.
"Finished, I opened the stall door and found myself starring at a urinal. I was in the men's room. About the same time, the stall next to me opened and out walked a vice president who worked for me. 'Boss, what are you doing in here?' he asked.
"I grabbed my coffee cup, phone still in hand, and looked to make a quick exit. As I came out of the men's room, there were two men on a ladder changing a light bulb who burst out laughing. They had seen me, head down, phone glued to ear, coffee cup in hand, mistakenly march into the men's room. They had also seen my direct report go in 20 minutes earlier and knew that we would probably have a head-on collision in front of the urinal. When I asked them why they didn't stop me, their only response was that they weren't going to get in the way of a woman!" -- Wendy Komac, turnaround specialist and author of "I Work with Crabby Crappy People"
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