How I Quickly Recovered from a Workplace Faux Pas – 4 Tips

workplace faux pasNone of us are immune to mistakes, even a seasoned professional, like myself.  Perfection is overrated.   It is what we do after we commit a workplace faux pas that matters.     This happened two weeks ago.  I didn’t even realize I was committing a workplace faux pas until after the meeting. Here is what happened.

I sent an email recommending we don’t use the digital feature we launched last year in the new effort I own.

  • The data I saw since its launch clearly indicated the feature was not working effectively
  • I made sure I understood the data and its interpretation before sending this email
  • I decided to send an email instead of hosting a meeting because it was meant to inform them of our direction.
  • I sent it to five people in order to be efficient and also to get feedback in case they had concerns
    • My leader –  let’s call her Jane
    • A peer of hers which was the the line of business lead – let’s call her Karen.  She is copied as she owns another project that may also want to adopt my recommendation
    • Karen’s two level up managers – let’s call them Sarah and Kate.   They both have an overall interest in the direction of my effort as well as that of Karen
    • My peer – let’s call him Matt – he is the owner of this feature and the person I already vetted the data with and aligned on what it meant.

All seemed very logical and fact-based.  Even when I received emails from Sarah and Karen expressing concerns of my recommendation, I still didn’t realize what happened. What was the workplace faux pas I committed then?   I made one fundamental assumption that was completely inaccurate – Matt isn’t the overall owner of this feature.  Karen is! I basically sent an email to Karen copying her two level up managers, informing all of them how ineffective this feature she owns is.  I did it without first talking to Karen. OMG!

  • I found out in the meeting that Karen had different reports on this feature, showing its effectiveness.  I also learned that the reporting overall is inaccurate and therefore we all don’t know exactly how effective it is.  OMG!
  • I had assumed Matt was the owner because he has been the only person who was sending communication about this feature to our team.   Matt ends up to be the sub-owner of only 6 line of business vs. Karen is the overall owner of this feature across all 18 line of business – OMG!

I didn’t even realize it until immediately after the meeting.   Something about the way they spoke about the feature just didn’t add up.  When it dawned on me, I was mortified.  It was an honest mistake, but still a terrible thing to do to Karen.  She was a new colleague with whom I was build relationships.

Here is how I managed to recover from my workplace faux pas within the hour.

Tip 1: Own up to it.  It’s important to immediately acknowledge my mistake to the key people affected

  • I immediately wrote a personal email to Karen to apologize.  I explained my realization and more importantly told her I would have absolutely vetted my recommendation with her, if I had known she was the owner.   I took full responsibly and made sure Matt was not blamed in the process.
  • I wrote a separate note to Karen’s manager, Sarah,  to let her know my mistake as well as bcc my own leader to keep her informed.

Tip 2: Still pursue the best course for this feature and my effort.   While I made a relationship faux pas, my intent was still to bring the best experience to our customers and to look out for our business.

  • I called Matt to also share what I realized.  He quickly apologize for not being clear about his role. However I told him the wrong assumption was my mistake alone.
  • Instead I just asked for his help to get us better data working with Karen’s team and our data analytics team.
  • At the end of the day, we still had a business issue.  We launched a feature where we don’t have good reporting data to truly know whether it was effective and helpful to our customers.

I was super thankful Matt agreed to help me on this front.

Tip 3: Let it go.  I felt pretty terrible that I did this, although unintentionally.  I let myself feel bad for about an hour while I was trying to write the apology emails.   Both Karen and Sarah quickly replied letting me know they appreciated the email and also they understood my intent.  I am blessed with great colleagues who are focused on serving our customer instead of focused on playing politics.  Once I sent those emails, I let it go.  Even if they didn’t reply as they did, I would have let it go.  I have done all in my power to acknowledge and apologize.    There was no need to continue to feel horrible.  There is work to do.  Good colleagues will always understand.  Bad colleagues will never forgive me.  Either way, I have done all I can.

Tip 4: Remember to give others the benefit of the doubt.   Karen and her manager could have been much harsher in the meeting or in the email to me.  I basically called their baby “ugly” without even acknowledging that it was their baby.  Instead, they were gracious and focused on the data and was open to hear my logic.   They really gave me the benefit of the doubt.

They are great examples to learn from the next time I am in their shoes and someone call “my baby ugly” by accident.   We all make mistakes.  It’s good to give others room to recover and realize their own mistake.  Being gracious and having faith in others are always effective tips when building business relationships.  We are all people trying to do our best.   Great colleagues will always appreciate it if we don’t call them out in public even if they made a mistake.  I know I do.

I hope my story and these tips can help you in your work.  Making mistakes at work are inevitably.  Addressing it quickly is crucial to your reputation and your business relationships.

Your comments: How do you recover from a workplace faux pas?  Any more tips to share or questions for me?  I look forward to your comments

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