At some point in every career, mistakes or embarrassments happen. Some mistakes are potentially disastrous. You can help mitigate a potential office disaster by recovering with grace and humility, learning from it, and moving forward. Unfortunately, some people compound the initial embarrassment with excuses and defenses, which is the worst possible action.

Considering the average person spends more time at work than home, it should not be a surprise when an embarrassing mishap occurs. Here are a few examples of embarrassing mistakes and situations, and how to lessen the sting.


Have you ever replied to an email you meant for one person but mistakenly pressed, REPLY ALL? Have you felt that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach as you realize everyone just read something that wasn’t meant for them? That mistake can be more than embarrassing, and depending on the content and comments, it could cost you your job. How do you do damage control and fix it?

In this situation and whenever apologies are in order, never make excuses or try to shift blame. Own it, apologize, and move on. A lame apology is as damaging as an extended, drawn out one. Be sincere, direct, responsible and find a way to put it behind you. Bringing it up again doesn’t benefit anyone.


Office gossip is bound to happen, but if someone overhears – especially if they are the topic of discussion, there’s going to be a difficult recovery.

This situation happened to me a few years ago. Two of my co-workers were in an office discussing their opinions about me. This situation caught me off-guard because I believed we had a positive working relationship, but gossip is usually more a reflection on the gossiper than the person being discussed. What did I do? I took a deep breath, composed myself and told my colleagues I heard what they said, and I didn’t appreciate being spoken of in that way and if they had something to say to me they should have come to me directly instead of behind my back.

The outcome of the situation was as good as could be expected. They apologized, I accepted the apology, and we moved on. I could have lost my temper and caused a fuss, but then I would have taken the low ground instead of remaining professional.

This was an important lesson for me. Coworkers don’t need to be friends, but there is also a time and a place for gossipy discussions. Do it on your own time, away from the office. If you need to vent about someone you work with, the best advice is to do it on your own time, in a place you are sure no one, especially that person, might overhear.


Have you ever been so disappointed at work that you felt like expressing a strong emotion, like anger or sadness? What happens when someone in the office blows their cool, or breaks down in tears? It’s disruptive and uncomfortable, but the probability of either of those situations is fairly high.

Everyone knows it isn’t professional to show strong emotions at work, but it happens. Offices are filled with people, people with real emotions and stresses, so is it any wonder that there are times when those emotions come out at the worst times?

When it happens, and it probably will, the most productive way to handle it is to excuse yourself to a private place and regain composure. This may take a while and it’s best not to rush it. Trying to contain feelings that spill over can be challenging and exhausting. It may take a few hours, or a day, but once the composure returns it’s important to let others in the office know you acknowledge and own what happened and to try to assure your co-workers and supervisors that the emotional outburst was an isolated incident and not a pattern.

Emotional control is necessary in an office or work environment for several reasons. First and foremost, if everyone at work felt comfortable expressing their emotions without concern for how it affected the entire group, it would be chaotic and unmanageable. Secondly, the work wouldn’t get done, or it would be less than desirable. Controlling strong emotions in the workplace is necessary to be successful.


After a few years of being in the workplace, you’ll notice there are some people who are highly-sensitive and easily offended. If you have a supervisor who fits this description, be prepared to apologize – a lot.

If you’re a reasonable person, you can get through the day without offending too many people. Sadly, there are some people who are thin-skinned and easily insulted and will expect frequent apologies. For instance, a highly-sensitive person can feel left out if they aren’t included in conversations, so it’s best to keep the chatter to a minimum if they are close by.

Managing highly-sensitive co-workers and supervisors is not easy, but it is manageable. Trying to understand why someone feels a certain way is part of managing them, but that isn’t as important as finding ways to minimize situations that can cause the highly-sensitive person to respond negatively. As I’ve noted in previous articles, it isn’t the work that is the most draining and difficult, it’s managing the different personalities.

So, just remember, we all make mistakes and have embarrassing situations, but they are recoverable. Learning to apologize with dignity and sincerity is key to getting past, but the most important tool is learning from mistakes to avoid repeating them.

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Diana M. Rodriguez is a native Washingtonian who works as a professional freelance writer, commentator, and blogger; as well as a public affairs, website content and social media manager for the Department of Defense.