5 ways to repair your reputation at work (if you’ve been politically incorrect or offensive)

As the old Chinese curse goes, “May you live in interesting times.” Well, the current political climate guarantees that we’re not just living in interesting times, we’re also living in bellicose, verbose, litigious and confusing times. And despite our best intentions, that can sometimes spill over into the workplace.

So, what do you do if you’ve been overheard saying something wholly inappropriate in the office? Can you repair your reputation and earn back the trust of your boss, coworkers or team? Probably. But it’ll take work.

Are you ready to tell the entire class?

Before you even start gossiping at work about the latest debate or debacle, think about whether it’s actually worth it. Remember how it was in grade school when you got caught whispering with your classmates?

Chances are good your teacher would say in a haughty voice: “Why don’t you tell the entire class what you just said?” It was embarrassing, but also effective.

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If your whispered words weren’t meant to be heard by others, they probably should have been uttered more privately. “If you are overheard saying anything that you would not say to a group, start there,” Tricia Brouk, Director, Writer, Executive Producer of TEDxLincolnSquare and the NYC Speaker Salon.

Own your gaffe

Brouk said to “speak with kindness, compassion, and expertise always. However, if you fail as humans do, take full responsibility immediately and call yourself out for having momentary limitations. We all make mistakes and we can correct these mistakes if we own them fully and do not place blame anywhere except the source, you.”

In other words, don’t pretend you didn’t say it. Own it. Apologize for it. Prove it was a one-time thing and it won’t happen again.

If you said it publicly, apologize publicly

It’s always a tough call whether it helps or hinders to publicly apologize for something you’ve said or done. But if you said something that was, in theory, unforgivable you might just want to make a semi-public apology so that the gossip mill doesn’t twist your words on the second go-round.

“The power of speaking is not limited to the stage, so be mindful of your words, how you use them and when to apologize publicly,” Brouk said.

Here reasoning being that a public apology makes sure that “your words can have the impact you want, not the shame you do not.”

Don’t put it in writing

Here’s a tough one. Some situations require a written apology. Maybe your slur or insult was overheard by a visiting colleague. Or maybe your boss is a fan of the hand-written note.

While it’s fine to send a written apology, do not repeat the words or phrase or insult that caused so much pain the first time around. That will just open the wound again while potentially giving them ammunition and proof to use against you in the future.

Try to keep your apology neutral but very sincere. Explain that you realize your words could have caused pain and you commit to being more aware of the things you say.

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Let’s face it, you can’t promise to never slip up, because you’re only human. What you can promise to do is be more sensitive and aware in the future.

Send a meaningful gift

No. Not roses or chocolate- it wasn’t a romantic mess up. Instead, find a cause that proves you are trying to understand that what you said might have been wrong.

When you apologize to the person you’ve offended, feel free to let them know that you’re not only trying to change your ways, you’ve made a gift to a charity that highlights understanding or outreach.