Workplace misunderstandings can be stressful and damaging to your career, especially if you created the communication confusion. Knowing how to handle communication blunders while keeping your composure can save a career, a reputation or a business relationship.
Early in my career, I inadvertently created a situation where a client requested to work with me instead of the original sales person who was working on her project. As the policy was to be helpful but not overly engaging while assisting other colleague’s clients, I had no intention of causing her to make that request. But while assisting her during her salesperson’s absence my enthusiasm and willingness to answer her questions apparently crossed the line from helpful to fully engaged. (Please note that I don’t believe this is necessarily a bad thing but that’s another article.)
Knowing that I had created a situation that could cost my relationship with a colleague I respected, as well as possibly losing a client, I acted as quickly as possible. Since my co-worker would be working the day following my slip-up, I got up early (even though it was my day off) and went into work to speak with her. The office grapevine had already delivered the news and she was angry and not overly receptive to my conversation.
No matter her emotions, I knew I had to keep mine in check. I apologized and told her that I respected her work and our relationship. I spoke honestly and intently and stayed with it despite her initial reluctance to acknowledge me. Eventually, she realized that I had made a special effort to correct the misunderstanding and that I valued our working relationship more than the short-term gains of making a sale.
As you might guess, correcting communication mishaps has a lot to do with values. Having good working relationships is a quality of life issue. Work can be challenging enough without the added stress of hostile or unfriendly co-workers on a daily basis.
If you find yourself in a similar situation keep these 3 tips in mind:
1. Apologies are always appropriate but be mindful of your timing, framing and mode of delivery. Don’t allow emotions to be the message, use your words to correct misunderstandings and seek confirmation that your apology was heard correctly.
2. If you caused an unfortunate or difficult situation for a co-worker or supervisor, intentionally or not, correct it quickly and in person. This is no time to rely on email or other electronic communication. Use the phone only when an in-person delivery isn’t possible.
3. If you realize your blunder while your words are leaving your mouth–apologize immediately. Take the onus and do the right thing without adding dramatics. A heartfelt, “I apologize. That comment was uncalled for.” will go a long way in mending a regrettable comment.