What happens when you make a verbal blunder at work? Can you recover? Should you apologize? Should you even acknowledge it? It all depends on what you say, whom you say it to and who overhears it, says Joseph Grenny, co-author of “Crucial Conversations.”
“It doesn’t just happen to news correspondents or politicians,” Grenny says. “Verbal blunders happen to all of us, and if they happen at work, these social gaffes can be even more damaging.”
Grenny gives us three quick face-saving strategies for recovering from verbal gaffes at work:
The blunder: You said something harsh about a boss or co-worker that should not have been overheard, but was.
What’s required: Own up to your loose tongue. A clear, unvarnished, unrestrained apology is all you can do. The bandage needs to be as large as the wound — if you made fun of the boss’s wife, a simple “I’m sorry” won’t cut it. They’ll need to hear an apology as intense as their disgust for you at the moment.
The blunder: You said something that was right, but it came across wrong in a meeting.
What’s required: The apology here is more complex but must still match the fervor of the upset. You have three tasks: 1) Acknowledge that the message people heard from you sounded as offensive as they’ve taken it. And don’t move to step two until they’re satisfied. 2) Say what you really think on the topic in the way you should have said it. 3) Repeat step one.
The blunder: You said something you believe, but that you shouldn’t have said in your position.
What’s required: In this instance you need to do the same as you did in the first situation – you must apologize. If you stated an opinion that is not the opinion of your company and brought shame to it as a result, then you must apologize as though you don’t believe what you said. This could sound disingenuous, but it’s not. It isn’t “you” who’s apologizing, it’s your position. So your apology is righting the real wrong — your irresponsible lapse of judgment in realizing you don’t get to represent your company in any way you see fit.
Tell us: Have you ever “pulled a Biden” at work? How did you recover, or were you not able to?