Help! I Offended My Co-Worker!

We’ve all been there; you’re talking to your co-worker and suddenly it becomes painfully obvious that you said the wrong thing.  So what do you do now?  How do you minimize the damage and ensure that you haven’t made a permanent enemy?  Before you get yourself too worked up, take a look at these tips and see if they’re appropriate to your situation:

Consider if you may be overreacting.  Sometimes when we imagine what other people are thinking, we are dead wrong.  It is possible that your co-worker wasn’t offended at all and that you’re getting upset over nothing.  Did your co-worker actually communicate that they were offended, or are you just making assumptions?

Be direct.  If your co-worker was offended or if you’re not sure, address the situation directly.  Tell them that you thought that you may have offended them and apologize.  If it was a misunderstanding, then explain it.  It is usually best if you are upfront when dealing with these types of situations.

Don’t dwell on it.  When you feel bad, there can be a temptation to apologize repeatedly; don’t.  By continuously reminding your co-worker of your wrongdoing, you are probably making the situation even worse.  Apologize once and move on.  You won’t accomplish anything by continuing to torture yourself.

Figure out where you went wrong.  If you did offend your co-worker, it is a good idea to do a quick analysis of where you went wrong.  For example, is your co-worker particularly sensitive about a specific topic?  Did you take a joke too far?  Were your words misconstrued?  Once you know how you offended your co-worker, it is easier to prevent yourself from doing it the next time.   

Always be respectful of your co-workers.  Never forget that you’re at work.  You don’t need to be a different person at work, but you do need to behave professionally.  If you are offending your co-workers, then it is a good indication that you probably need to be more careful.  Freedom of speech doesn’t really exist in the workplace.

These awkward situations are easier to avoid than they are to fix.  However, if you’re currently sitting at your desk with your foot in your mouth, take comfort in the fact that your co-worker will likely forgive you, and it’s probably not as bad as you think.

(Written by Karen Bivand)



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