We all have them. Those embarrassing moments when we want to crawl into a hole and hide from the world. They can happen at home, at school, at social events – anywhere. While the worst place to engage in our most embarrassing conduct is probably a family reunion (since the story will follow you for the rest of your life), the runner-up for worst has to be the workplace. Why? Because in addition to the prospect of eternal ridicule, you get the added stress of a career going down in flames.
It may surprise regular readers to know that the Margarita Incident described in “Worst Day on the Job Ever” was not my most embarrassing workplace stunt. The Margarita Incident was clearly an accident and, even though life went into slow motion at the time, it was over in a flash. No, the most embarrassing moment took place when I was a newly admitted lawyer and attending my first major law firm function.
Picture this: hundreds of lawyers gathered at a resort for the annual firm retreat. I had been employed by the firm for all of two weeks. Everyone has gathered for cocktail hour and my new boss is leading me around the room, introducing me to my new colleagues. We had arrived at the reception a little late because we did not want to look over eager and because the boss forced me to have a pre-function drink at the resort’s bar. Since we were late, I missed the big announcement – a former U.S. Senator had joined the firm’s partnership and was with us at the retreat.
When I was introduced to the new partner, my boss neglected to mention the part about him being a former Senator. Before I go any further, and in my own defense, I had only recently moved to Washington from California. I had no idea who the guy was. He asked me what I did before joining the firm. I told him. Ever my charming self, I reciprocated and asked him what he used to do before joining the firm.
Everyone laughed. Had I laughed at the moment, no one might have realized what was happening. They would have thought I was merely making a lame joke. Sadly, I stopped the laughing and said, “No, really, what did you do before joining the firm?”
The people nearby became very quiet. I think there were a few gasps. My new boss glared at me before dragging me away. I spent the rest of the weekend dying a little every time someone asked, “Aren’t you the guy who . . .?”
The ability to handle and/or prevent embarrassing moments is a critical skill for any employee, all the way from entry-level to top management. Here’s how.
Evil Skippy’s Top Ten Ways to Handle and/or Prevent Workplace Embarrassment
- When you are a conference speaker, turn off your microphone before heading to the restroom.
- If you are having an affair with a colleague during work hours, don’t forget to turn off the intercom if you are “meeting” in the conference room. Better yet – knock it off.
- “Open Bar” at work-related social gatherings does not mean “All You Can Drink.”
- No, we really do not want to see your scar.
- If you forget someone’s name, don’t mumble your best guess. We know our own name and will notice.
- Be really, really careful to check the recipient’s address before sending a snarky email. Before sending.
- It a universal truth that burps and flatulence do not exist at work. Ignore them. Say nothing.
- It is never, never, never safe to ask any woman if she is pregnant or, “When is the baby due?” Never. Not even if you think she is in labor.
- If you hit “Reply All” by mistake when you meant to send a very private snarky response just to your best buddy, wait a few minutes. Then send a new message to everyone stating that someone has been using your computer and several messages went out that were not actually sent by you. No one will believe you, but at least everyone can pretend nothing happened.
- Do not bring a major heat source (an open flame, for example) into contact with the sensor to a restaurant’s fire sprinkler system. Seriously.
In a sly attempt to change the subject – who wants to share embarrassing workplace experiences? Anyone?