Never the Right Word

Never the Right Word

Scripts & Templates for Life’s Uncomfortable Conversations.

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Exactly What to Say After You’ve Embarrassed Yourself at Work

So you’ve embarrassed yourself at work- welcome to the club as most of us have been here at some point during our careers! Sometimes we mess up spectacularly at work and this is enough to cost us the respect of those around us or (if we’re very unlucky) even our jobs.

If you’ve made a professional error or damaged your relationship with your colleagues at work, as bad as it may seem this very second, it’s important to keep in mind that your bad reputation is unlikely to stick with you forever. With a little damage control you can make your embarrassment a thing of the past, but you’ll have to work hard to rebuild your relationships and manage your reputation going forward. So how do we go about this theoretically?

First, remember you are not condemned to a lifetime of misery. You don’t have to buy into to your reputation- understand you made a mistake and that means you temporarily acted like a jerk but this doesn’t mean you ‘are a jerk’. Yes, our reputations do matter, and what others think of us does have some affect on our lives (to a certain extent) but this is not a life or death situation and (if you don’t resist or become overly defensive) things will swiftly move on if you act with grace and humility.

Understand that you’re probably going to have to eat humble pie. In order to demonstrate that you’re a person of integrity you’re going to have to admit your wrong-doing or slip ups. At first this won’t feel pleasant, but after a while you’ll feel a weight lifted off your shoulders.You’ll appear more human and relatable to others which will result in you being forgiven much faster. Maybe you didn’t even do anything untoward to somebody- perhaps it was that nude selfie that accidentally popped up during a slideshow presentation that slipped you up or unintentionally insulting the wrong person that’s left you red-faced. That’s okay- accept it’s happened. It was probably your fault and now you are rectifying the problem so it never happens again. That’s how we all learn and progress.

See that if you can laugh at your embarrassment, you’re going to diminish it faster. Granted, if you cost your company clients because an expletive slipped out your mouth during a pitch it’s probably best to not laugh directly in front of your angry boss at the time. Once the dust has settled however, look for the funny side of the situation. Smile and then recalibrate. Contrary to how the human brain works (thinking everyone is paying way more attention to us than they actually are) as long as the mistake doesn’t keep reappearing to draw attention to your flaws, they’ve likely been forgotten anyway.

Just think, most of us have done EXACTLY the same thing as you at some point; perhaps we were just more fortunate to not get caught. The reason we suggest you laugh at your embarrassment is less about how you appear to others but more about how you appear to you- treat yourself with the same forgiveness (and benefit of the doubt) you give to others.

Know that genuine apologies served with grace is going to instantly make you appear ‘high value’. The more evolved we become, the less judgemental we become of others because experience teaches us how we can all misinterpret, make bad judgements and make mess of things no matter how smart, attractive or funny we are. Not having an intense emotional response to your embarrassment and otherwise accepting your mistakes gracefully likely means you are a high-value person and this will shine through to others.

If you have something to apologize for make sure you do it promptly and with sincerity. Help yourself after a work blunder by expressing an attitude of apology, even if you don’t really “feel” it or don’t think the failure was entirely your responsibility. Own up to your involvement regardless of whether others do and lead by example.

Now that your mindset is in the right place, we’re going to outline some instances and examples of exactly what to say to minimize the damage after you’ve embarrassed yourself at work:

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Script 1 | Admit Your Mistake


I got the impression I really messed up with [Insert Client Name] yesterday. I think I misunderstood [Insert Variable]. I feel terrible that you guys all put so much effort into the pitch and I dropped the ball on my end. Let me see if I can make things right by [Insert Variable].

Talking about you blunder is probably THE last thing you feel like doing at this point. But how you take responsibility for what happened will be one of the definitive factors in the impression it leaves. It’s best to immediately admit what happened without giving excuses or getting defensive.

The more concerned you appear, the less your supervisor or colleagues are likely to feel that they need to reinforce the severity of the mistake on you. They may even try to make you feel better and this works in your favour every time.

If you're looking to develop your communication skills for professional environments even further, we think you’ll like the following video course from LinkedIn Learning. Check out the preview below:

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In this course, personal branding expert Dorie Clark helps you adopt the accountability mindset. Dorie outlines specific, practical steps you can take to implement accountability.This course teaches you to amplify the urgency of your mission, understand why it matters, and know how taking responsibility helps you become the kind of person you want to be.

Script 2 | Sometime It IS Best to Explain How Things Went Wrong


Sorry, I overreacted to [Insert Variable] to be honest I’ve been feeling overwhelmed with personal circumstances at the moment and I misread your feedback as an attack on my character.

I’ll do my best to make sure I control my emotions much better/ take better self care to ensure I’m getting the breaks I need. I really am genuinely sorry.

There are certain scenarios where explaining why you messed up will actually get you off the hook. Were you given false information? Are you going through tough personal circumstances? You’re right to be concerned that doing this will make you sound like you’re full of excuses but this isn’t about making excuses; it’s about identifying how you can make sure the mistake doesn’t happen again.

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Script 3 | Identify the Silver Lining


There really is no excuse for this/ I’m not proud of what happened, but I am glad that it did because it’s highlighted to me that [Insert Positive Variable].

Well, I’m an idiot- this is actually quite embarrassing, Let’s start again on a better foot shall I?

Sometimes a work failure is a result of some deeper work that needs to happen within ourselves. By identifying that you might be the problem and then searching for solutions you are demonstrating strong emotional intelligence and core soft skills that are highly coveted by employers.

Saying this also shows others that you take your personal development seriously and are more receptive to feedback- this in turn makes you appear more positive and respectable. You can also say something like this from a humorous perspective.

You want to show you’re serious where it counts but able to see things in perspective- we’re all likely to embarrass ourselves from time to time and it’s not the end of the world.

At Never the Right Word, our aim is to give you practical examples of how to handle life’s difficult conversations. If you have an awkward situation that you’d like example templates for, request a topic here.   

If you’re interested in further reading, we’ve also included links to our trusted resources and related posts below. To find out more about NTRW and our recommended tools, you can do that here.  

Lastly, if you found this content helpful or want to share your own examples, let us know in the comments. We’d also be delighted if you shared this article and joined us on social media too!

If you want to develop your communication skills for professional environments even further, we think you’ll like the "Leading through Relationships" video course from LinkedIn Learning. Check out the preview below:

Click here for full access to "Leading through Relationships" On LinkedIn Learning
In this course, Simon T. Bailey details how to lead through relationships, sharing the strategies that help build connection with your employees, manage team relationships, and establish buy-in with other leaders. Learn how to create a culture of insiders, effectively lead others through change and conflict, encourage collaboration and meaningful conversation and more.
Never the Right Word

Never the Right Word

Hi there! I’m Amy, and I’m the person behind Never the Right Word. I’m a designer-by-day who’s fascinated by human psychology; you’ll find me learning about what makes others tick through all types of media and good old-fashioned conversation.

In 2019 Never the Right Word was born to fill the gap of ‘how-to’ websites with copy and paste examples showing you EXACTLY what you need to say to steer difficult conversations into positive outcomes.

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