any of these situations happened to you? Forgetting
your client's name, unintentionally insulting a co-worker,
spilling coffee on your boss, not recognizing an old friend,
drinking too much at the company party, sending a racy e-mail
to the wrong person, or asking a woman's due date when she's
not pregnant - ouch! You never have a second
chance to make a first impression, so what happens when that
first impression is a negative one?
all make mistakes. Effective communicators are not only
aware of how their actions impact others; they also know how
to respond in uncomfortable situations. It's actually
possible to earn more respect after making a flub by
owning up to it rather than running away. If you've
committed a social faux pas here is how you can recover.
is of the essence when it comes to image damage control.
As soon as you realize that you may have offended someone,
address it. The more time that passes, the more the
story can become blown out of proportion. While first
impressions stick, so do last impressions. Take control
of the situation by making your last impression a positive
you're sorry is important, but overdoing it can create another
uncomfortable situation. First, your goal in apologizing
is to acknowledge your mistake and re-position yourself as
being responsible and sensitive. If you repeatedly bring
up the past, groveling and begging for forgiveness, you're
defeating your purpose. Second, it puts the other person
in the uncomfortable position of having to constantly reassure
you. Eventually that person may choose to avoid you
It's easy to assume that others think the worst of you, but
usually what we imagine is far worse than reality. Approach
your apology by owning your feelings rather than telling others
how you assume they feel. This gives you a chance to
test their perceptions and get a real handle on the situation.
So, instead of starting out with, "You must think I'm
a total idiot." speak for yourself, "I'm uncomfortable with
how I behaved yesterday because I realized I might have offended
you. Did you feel the same way?" Starting out
this way also prevents over-apologizing because the other
person may think it was no big deal.
No matter what the circumstances, a sincere apology requires
three steps. First, own what happened fully without
blaming it on other people or circumstances. Second,
acknowledge how your actions affected the other person which
means listening without defending yourself. Third,
commit to what you will do differently in the future to avoid
making the same mistake. Such an apology might sound like,
"I want to apologize for what I said yesterday. After
speaking with you, I can hear how much my comments offended
you and caused embarrassment. I want you to know that
in the future I will be more sensitive."
on the situation, a little self-deprecating humor can save
you. Make sure it's directed only at you and does not
increase anybody else's level of discomfort. Sometimes
calling it like you see it in the moment breaks the tension
and provides an opening for you to recover. Be careful
not to over indulge though. Too much self-deprecation
can have the same effect as over-apologizing.
Communication has a cumulative effect, so every impression
you make builds on the previous one. Overcoming a bad
impression requires that all future behavior be consistent
with how you want to be perceived. It will take time
and trust to change perceptions, but it can be done!
in improving your image? Contact
Susan for a private coaching session.