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If you commit a gaffe at work, confess the wrongdoing and be willing to laugh at yourself.
Karen Giberson, president of Accessories Council, a nonprofit organization that stimulates consumer awareness and demand for fashion accessories, was scheduling an appointment with a major retailer to show it a new line of pantyhose. When confirming the meeting, the secretary asked who would be attending. Giberson replied, "Oh, just me and a bunch of great hose!"
"I didn't even realize what I said until the assistant said, 'Excuse me?'" Giberson recalls.
Unfortunately, the assistant thought Giberson meant a different kind of "hose" -- as in the derogatory sense of the word.
"Once I realized my blunder, we ended up having a pretty good laugh about it. I am very glad she had a sense of humor, but it was a good lesson for me in the future," she says.
Everyone has committed an embarrassing work gaffe like Giberson's or worse. (If you haven't, you might be superhuman.) But sometimes our on-the-job slip-ups aren't contained to an audience of two.
When Melanie Davis, now the vice president of communications for the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce, was a local TV news anchor a few years back, her mistake was made on live TV during the week of spring break.
At the end of the newscast, the meteorologist gave the final weather predictions, including a beach forecast intended for spring breakers. Trying to be funny (and using an accent) she said, 'We don't need no stinkin' beaches,' putting an emphasis on the beginning of the word.
"All of the sudden, the meteorologist has this look on his face and so did my co-anchor. I looked at them both and said, 'You know, we've got Lake Tuscaloosa.' They were like, 'OK' and we went off the air," Davis says. "They said, 'You just said b*tches on TV.' I said, 'No, I didn't.' They played the tape back for me and sure enough, it sounded like I said the cuss word. Fortunately, we did not get any calls of complaints."
Unfortunately, not all work faux pas have such a happy ending.
When Alan Krawitz worked at a small public relations firm in New York City, he worked for a nightmare boss whom Krawitz and his colleagues nicknamed 'Grandma,' because she was "a bit long in the tooth and seemed far older than her actual age of 50-something."
While pitching an upcoming event for a sporting goods client to major magazine, "Grandma" kept walking by Krawitz's desk, barking event details for him to relate to the reporter. Unable to listen to both his boss and the reporter, Krawitz was forced to put the reporter on hold while his boss screamed details at him; not the most ideal situation when you're pitching a huge media outlet.
While relaying the ill-fated story to a colleague later that day, Krawitz was surprised to find "Grandma" standing right behind him -- listening to the whole thing.
"In one highly demonstrative motion, similar to that of a major league baseball umpire throwing a player out of the game, Grandma shrieked, 'You're outta here!'" Krawitz says. "I gathered my things and abruptly left the office."
If commit an embarrassing gaffe at work, have no fear -- there are ways to recover gracefully. Here are three tips how:
Tip No. 1: Confess your wrongdoing
If you commit an obvious faux pas, like Davis' mispronunciation, including a typo in a presentation or accidentally sending a raunchy e-mail to your entire company, there's not much you can do but admit you messed up and go from there. Talking about your error too much could make the situation worse, so it's best to correct your mistake and move on.
Tip No. 2: Make the most of the situation
If you're caught making reproachful comments about a co-worker or boss, like Krawitz, take advantage of the opportunity to finally voice your concerns. Apologize for the way he or she found out about your grievances but use the moment to have an open discussion about why it might be difficult to work together. You could end up turning a negative situation into a positive one.
Tip No. 3: Don't take your gaffe too seriously
Nothing soothes the pain of an embarrassing situation better than laughing about it. If you can laugh at yourself (and your mistakes), like Giberson, it's likely other people can too.
Copyright CareerBuilder.com 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority
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