"It's easy to make a lapse in judgment or trust the wrong colleague, even if you're just trying to blow off some steam or even if you're trying to do the right thing and practice how to approach a difficult situation," he says. It's a better idea to talk to a spouse, a personal friend or a close sibling -- as long as those people don't have any connection to your workplace.
3. Taboo topics
Just say no to discussing politics, religion or any other emotionally charged topic in the workplace, Maxfield says. One survey respondent says that in a meeting they made what they thought was an innocuous comment about the fact that they only watched Fox News. That offhand comment quickly devolved into a heated political battle, and tarnished their reputation at work from that moment on.
4. Word rage
Everyone's had at least one of those moments at work when you lose your temper or become overly frustrated and fed up, says Maxfield. But be careful how you express that frustration -- it could cost you.
"There's a fine line between if you say, 'Who came up with this ridiculous idea?' or when you use an obscenity; then the attack becomes personal -- especially if you're using the 'F' word. In an example from our survey, a respondent says a colleague yelled, 'Who's the dumbass who had this idea?' and it was a very poor response, to say the least. When you move from the general, 'This is a bad idea' to 'dumbass,' you're definitely crossing a line," Maxfield says.
5. Reply all
This situation could be chalked up to clumsiness, being rushed or just not focusing enough attention on the task at hand, says Maxwell, but it still has the potential to be destructive in the workplace.
"Pay attention -- double-check to whom that email's going; reread your reply, out loud, if possible. This is one of the easier blunders to avoid, since you have time before you hit 'Send' to make sure you're saying the appropriate thing to the appropriate audience," he says.
How to recover
It is possible to recover from these catastrophes, but it takes time, effort and sincerity, according to Maxfield. You have to have some self-awareness and understand what it is you're apologizing for, first of all, and do so without blaming the victim and making them feel ashamed for being offended or hurt.
"The bandage has to be as large or larger than the wound. You have to go beyond a token apology. Start with an apology, but the most persuasive way to mitigate the damage is to make a personal sacrifice -- of your time, your ego or your money. In an example from the survey, one woman shared that she was on a conference call with a group of managers and directors. She thought she'd muted herself, but -- you can guess where this is going -- she hadn't. She said, 'Can you believe these idiots are our managers and directors?!' To try to make it right, she spent her own money and time and personally flew to meet each offended party in person to apologize," Maxfield says. She did not say whether or not her reputation or her professional standing was restored, but at least she made the sincere effort -- sometimes, that's all you can do, Maxfield adds. "You can't talk your way out of a situation you behaved yourself into," he says.
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