How to Recover From These 10 Embarrassing Work Mishaps
You’re having a nice day at work when suddenly you make a joke that falls flat — how do you get over an embarrassing moment at work? Here are a few ways you can recover from these kinds of situations.
1. Spilling on Someone
Mistakes happen — one second, you’re rushing into work because getting coffee made you late, and the next, your co-worker’s new blouse is covered in a venti cappuccino. Assuming you already apologized in the moment, fixing your mistake is the next best thing you can do.
Even though coworkers and clients are generally easygoing and forgive accidents, they’ll still appreciate it if you replace what you damaged. For example, if you spilled coffee on someone’s shirt, offer to get them a new one. You may even have a friendly conversation while discussing where they bought it from.
2. Tripping and Falling
Tripping and falling at work often feels like an embarrassing moment at work because the commotion draws everyone’s attention. That’s actually a psychological reaction from evolution — people automatically look at loud noises or sudden movements. Although it feels like a big deal in the moment, most people won’t think twice about it afterward.
If you’re still burning with embarrassment, take a few deep breaths and reevaluate the situation. People fall at work all of the time, so it likely has happened at your workplace before.
3. Having a Bathroom Mixup
Although a bathroom is among the more awkward places to have an uncomfortable moment, you shouldn’t dwell on it — it’s not like you’re the only person to have ever walked in on an occupied stall. The best thing to do in this situation is to apologize and get some perspective. In all likelihood, the person you interacted with is just as embarrassed as you.
4. Emailing the Wrong Person
So, you sent an email to someone you shouldn’t have. Whether you didn’t know they were CC’d or included their name in the “send to” box on accident, you can’t exactly unsend it. Instead, you must claim responsibility and own up to your mistake to move on.
If the email contained language you shouldn’t be using at work or topics that are generally off the table, it’s best to reach out and apologize. Instead of trying to come up with an excuse, acknowledge your mistake and let them know it won’t happen again moving forward.
It may feel uncomfortable, but it is generally better than pretending it didn’t happen. While people don’t like being in awkward situations, most empathize with the people who create them. According to research, nearly 70% of Americans feel similarly tolerant of them.
5. Mixing Up Words
Everyone has accidentally mixed up a word or phrase — like calling your mentor “mom” or telling a co-worker you love them instead of saying goodbye. Instead of making a big deal out of the situation, try to make a joke out of it.
Using humor is among the best approaches to moving past an embarrassing moment at work. People react especially well to a joke in awkward situations because they’re looking for a way to make things feel normal. If you say something funny and call attention to your mistake, they’ll likely feel relieved and everyone will move past it.
On the other hand, even minor miscommunications can lead to major financial loss. Everyone should be on the same page when it comes to following company ordering protocols or knowing who’s in charge of inventory.
If you make a mistake that costs your company money, it’s best to own up to your mistake immediately and offer to streamline processes for your team so it doesn’t happen again. In these cases, you can take minor setbacks and turn them into huge wins. You can be the coworker known for ‘saving the day’ or the one known for coming up with that process improvement.
6. Saying Something Offensive
Whether you left your meeting camera on, made a joke in poor taste or didn’t know you weren’t on mute, the occasional rude thing slips out of many people’s mouths. In fact, around 23% of workers had similar digital mishaps in 2022. The best thing to do is acknowledge and fix the situation immediately.
Even if it was unintentional, you can only move past the situation’s awkwardness if you take full responsibility, own up to your mistake and show your co-workers you’ve learned. Offer a genuine, heartfelt apology to those you affected.
Since your co-workers may initially feel uncomfortable being around someone who said something offensive, you need to demonstrate that the situation won’t happen again. Once they know you’ve learned from your mistakes, everyone can move on.
7. Mixing Up Names
It’s relatively common to mix up or forget other people’s names. You can still make this mistake even if you see most co-workers daily. You should make the situation feel lighthearted to help yourself move on. Most people are generally understanding, so joking about your memory or not having your morning coffee can put them at ease.
In the future, your best bet is to try and remember everyone’s names. According to one principle, it only takes 20% of your overall effort to make 80% of your total progress. It may take some time, but you’ll learn faster than you’d think.
8. Having a Wardrobe Malfunction
Most people have nightmares about ripping their pants or going to work just in their underwear, but it becomes a reality for some. Many people have accidentally tucked their skirts into their pantyhose or had their zippers down all day.
Thinking of the embarrassing moment at work from someone else’s point of view can help you put it into perspective. For instance, if no one came up to you and you found out for yourself, it means they either didn’t notice or thought nothing of your situation. If they told you, they wanted to be helpful — not make you feel bad.
If imagining how your coworkers feel makes you more embarrassed, try thinking of how you would react if they had a workplace wardrobe malfunction — you probably would politely let them know and move on with your day. It’s normal to feel this way, but you should move to start feeling better.
9. Being Late
It can feel embarrassing to be late to work, especially if you have to make an important presentation or attend a mandatory meeting. The best way to move on from this situation is to think about the future. Will this specific instance of lateness matter in five years? In all likelihood, it won’t.
Try to rephrase the seriousness of the situation by thinking about it positively. Generally, your mind can’t tell if you genuinely believe in your thoughts, so you will start to feel better over time.
10. Getting Caught Gossiping
Getting caught talking about someone in front of them is like the worse version of sending an email to the wrong person. You should take responsibility and bridge the topic with them to apologize. Directly confronting the situation can help you move on from it since it minimizes its impact in your mind.
Own Your Embarrassment
Everyone makes mistakes at work. Even if you don’t notice your coworkers slipping up, chances are it happens to them, too. Although specific situations require different approaches, the best way to move on from an embarrassing moment at work is to own it — don’t let it hold you back.