How to recover from a big mistake at work

copingIf you made a mistake at work would you a) Forget about it and move on or would you b) Admit it and try to fix it?  That’s the question I asked on Twitter last week and surprisingly (or maybe not) the majority of the answers were b.  What would you do?

I think I made a mistake last week at work and it’s been bothering me ever since.  My Dad always says it’s better to not say anything at all than to say something stupid and of course he’s right.  At least if you don’t say anything people can make their own conclusions, but if you open your mouth and say something stupid you are making the conclusion for them.  Last week I think I said something really stupid in front of a handful of executives at my work and more than seven days later I’m still not sure how much damage (if any) it caused.

Now as you may remember this is a new job for me.  I just started March 9 and I’m still building my reputation.  I can help but wonder to what extent this dumb mistake is going to hurt my career.  When you start a new job there are two ways your career starts off: 1. you start with a clean slate and have to prove your worthiness when it comes to your reputation or 2. you come in with a superstar reputation and all you have to do is work hard to maintain it.  My situation was the later but now I’m not sure where I stand.  This is what happened…

I was hired as a Consultant to help implement a new business development initiative so all eyes are on me to see if this new program is a success.  The woman who had this job and successfully implemented a previous program got a promotion within a year.  So there is a certain level of pressure that comes with the job.

Last week on a conference call the Associate Vice President introduced me to executives and praised my experience.  He positioned me as an added value to the team and recommended everyone to be on the lookout for great things to come.  I was so flattered that I immediately sent him and email thanking him for his kind words.

After about 20 minutes into the call a question came up that was directly related to my position and instead of letting my manager answer it (which is what I should have done) I thought I should say something and prove I’ve earned my spot.

Well I did definitely say something but I’m not sure how much good it did.  I jumped in saying “Hi this is Tahnya and I can tell you how we’ve done that in the past.”  I went on for several minutes explaining our process and giving examples.  When I tell you that there was complete silence on the phone I am not joking.  For some reason (although I’m not quite sure why) I decided to keep talking.

At the end of my ramble the Associate Vice President jumped back in and said “I think we got off on a tangent here, did that answer your question?”  It was at that exact moment that I realized my eagerness might not have been very helpful.  On top of that I might have just had all the executives on the line questioning whether I’m a good fit for the job.

That’s the thing about making a total ass of yourself, not only do you make yourself look bad but you also tarnish the opinion of the person who praised you.  I think it’s safe to say the Associate Vice President won’t be singing my praise any time soon, especially because he might be afraid I’ll open my mouth and talk a lot without actually saying anything of value.

So what do you think – did I tarnish  my reputation or am I just overreacting?

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  • Ouch. That doesn’t sound great. If I were in the same situation I’d address it with my manager (assuming it’s the AVP? if not, with both!) and just let them know I’m new and I misread the cues…but that I’m self-aware enough to know that and I’ll be very mindful of cues and culture moving forward. And ask if there is anything they can recommend for remeditation. I just feel like if I know, they know and it’s better if they know that I “get it” and will work on it.

    • Thanks Jesse! I think it’s going to be OK. I don’t want to seem too self involved. No one has mentioned it since, but I haven’t been invited onto any conference calls either.

  • Focusing on reputation is not worthwhile. It drives you into the exactly wrong kind of behavior, maybe even into the mistake itself?

    Then forget all about reputation and just do the kind of work you excel at. That is something you can control. Reputation will take care of itself.

    I wish you all the best for the next few days.

    • Thanks Robert. No one mentioned it. Unfortunately that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it, I’ll just have to do better next time a.k.a. keep quiet.

    • Thanks Robert. No one mentioned it. Unfortunately that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it, I’ll just have to do better next time a.k.a. keep quiet.

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