I’m Sorry I Called You an Idiot

By Heather Baldwin

Almost every sales manager has made an embarrassing mistake at one time or another. Perhaps one of your sales reps lost a big sale that should have been easy to close and you blew up at him, calling him incompetent in six different ways in front of all his peers. Or maybe you were emailing a red-hot, can’t-wait-to-see-you-tonight note to your wife but instead of hitting “Lynn” you hit “LIST” and the email went out to everyone on your sales team. As a leader, these kinds of mistakes are magnified because you’re in the corporate spotlight. So what you do next is enormously important.

“People in management often don’t know how to handle these kinds of embarrassing situations,” acknowledges Annmarie Kelly, principal of SkillBuilder Systems, a company that consults in management development and personal performance improvement. Typically, she says, managers pretend the mistake never happened. Or they make jokes about it later. Both of these responses are inappropriate and will undermine your authority. To emerge from the situation a stronger, more respected leader, Kelly says managers must tackle their gaffes head-on with poise and professionalism using these five steps:

1. Apologize and correct your mistake. This step sounds simple, but it’s so difficult for people to do when they’re embarrassed. However, the error will always taint you unless you offer a sincere apology. Just be straightforward: “I was really stressed out yesterday; I had other things going on and I lashed out at you in a way that was not appropriate. I want you to know I apologize. I made the workplace uncomfortable and I apologize.” The manager who mistakenly sent the red-hot email to the “LIST” (yes, it really happened) sent another email in which he acknowledged the mistake, added a little self-deprecating humor and asked everyone to move past it. “People tend to be forgiving, but only when the offender asks for forgiveness,” says Kelly.

2. Keep it in perspective. When you’re feeling like you can’t possibly mention your error again by apologizing, think about this: Would you rather be embarrassed for the minute it takes to apologize? Or would you rather tarnish your reputation and risk long-term damage to the relationship with the person you offended? Personally, says Kelly, “I’d rather be embarrassed.”

3. Stay busy. This isn’t hard for sales managers, but it’s important to remember because after a huge, embarrassing mistake, it can be tempting to spend a lot of time wringing your hands and feeling like a victim. Do something productive instead. “You may not think, act or work at your full capacity at first,” says Kelly, “but step by step, you can free yourself from feeling like a prisoner of your situation.”

4. Get inspired. Resist the urge to drown your sorrows in a bag of M&Ms or a bottle of Jack Daniels. Instead, force yourself in the opposite direction – go out for a run, get to the gym, snack on fresh vegetables, take some time to read something funny or inspirational and then go to bed early. All these activities will provide positive relief for your overburdened mind.

5. Get over it. If you’ve taken all these steps and you’re still fixated on your error, Kelly has one last message for you: GET OVER IT. “As a society, we are so concerned about what others are thinking about us,” she says. The reality is “most people aren’t thinking about us nearly as much as we think because they are busy thinking about themselves.” Forgive yourself and get back to work.

For more information about Kelly and SkillBuilder Systems, visit www.victoriouswoman.com.