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How to Recover From Embarrassing Moments at Work


Everybody has two lives in their life – a personal one and a professional one. While a personal life is more restricted for family members and a few friends, professional life has a lot of people including your colleagues, bosses, ex-colleagues, vendors, etc. These people are your office associates.

An office is a place wherein you spend at least one-third of the day every day- five days a week, four weeks a month and twelve months a year. Therefore, it is a lot more than a simple working environment. You spend your time working, gossiping, socializing and even sometimes- grooming yourself. It is no surprise if an embarrassing situation happens sooner or later.

The moment is often so embarrassing to face anybody. However, here are a dozen tips on overcoming embarrassment or embarrassing moments at work along with the situation that you are likely to be in.

embarrassing moment at work

Overcoming Embarrassment at Work:

1. Food Stuck in Teeth:

This one tops the list because it is a situation that most colleagues would not tell you. When you discover that you have been walking around the office, conducting meetings and interacting with people all day with that spinach stuck in your teeth, it would serve as a good lesson for you. The next time you wash your mouth you would remember to check teeth in the mirror.

On the other hand, if you discover a colleague facing a similar situation, you can politely let him know this if he or she is a good friend. If you share a formal relationship with the colleague then you may just let it pass.

2. Use a Mint:

When you realize that a colleague of yours is having a particularly bad breath, what would you do? Simply act as if you do not know- but how long? When you reach a threshold, what would you do? Point it out very gently? No matter how gently you do it the colleague is more likely to feel offended than taking it sportingly. There is a better solution. You need not say it. Simply offer a box of mints to him or her and offer it to everyone else around. Nobody takes offense and nobody would even realize it. People would think you are simply trying to break the monotony of work.

If a colleague gently lets you know the same you can say, “Thanks! However, my box of mints just ran out. Can you lend me some if you have any?”

3. ‘Reply All’:

The personnel department of an MNC once mailed all the new recruits asking them to send their bank details for salary purposes. Some of them unknowingly hit the ‘Reply All’ button. Later, personnel department sent a mail to all saying the mail was ‘recalled’.

Hitting the ‘Reply All’ happens all the time in office with someone or the other. If it’s not you, it is someone else. If it is you, then you may very prudently write an apology to all those involved. This is mandatory if another colleague of yours accidentally forwards your conversations with him or her about somebody else in the office or some gossips.

You may say, “I am sorry for the mail. Some of the things in the mail that are not appropriate have been said in the heat of the moment and they were not intentional.”

Another case if the mail contains some inappropriate comments about you between two other people. You must play the sportive role and simply mail back saying, “Thanks guys! I never knew this. I shall work upon it and make myself better.”

4. Lunch Time Conversations:

Lunch time conversations almost always turn to gossip and personal comments. Lending an ear to unwanted gossip is not always a good thing. It always brings with it some unwanted trouble for self. The best way is to ignore such talks, you can also say, “I think it is better to discuss this topic when he is also around.

It would be inappropriate to comment on the incident unless we know both sides of the story.” If you are having a working lunch and the topic turns to gossip, you can deal with it by saying, “Can we please stay on topic? I have a meeting to attend after lunch.” It is always better to avoid gossip talk but the best thing is when you discourage others as well from creating such talks. This helps in maintaining a healthy office environment.

5. Walk Into the Bathroom:

What do you do when you walk into the bathroom and find there was someone already in there? Simply close the door and apologize for the intrusion when the door opens later. The situation becomes very embarrassing, rather funnier when the person is your boss. However, if you accidentally happen to walk into your boss in the bathroom, you may simply say, “I think the lock is broken I shall notify the administration department about this” and walk off. The next time you meet your boss do not mention the incident. Letting it go is the best way to deal with it even if you were on the other side of the door.

6. Watching a Music Video:

After working really hard for a long time everybody gets tired and they need a break. However, as luck would have it, you start watching your favorite music video and your boss creeps behind you.

It becomes most embarrassing as you have no idea what to say especially if you got ticked off that morning for something that was not your fault. You can say, “You caught me red-handed.” An alternate way is to involve your boss into the video. This however has to be dealt with cautiously. You can say, “Hello! I just came across this beautiful song by (singer). Would you like to glance? By the way, the work that was pending, I am on it and shall mail the deliverable in an hour.” This puts across the message that although you were caught red-handed doing something that was not work related, yet, you were actually working till a while back.

7. Calling The Wrong Name:

This situation is particularly embarrassing. Calling somebody by the wrong name simply shows how least important the person is for you and this can be a bit frustrating at times especially if you are going through a low phase in life.

If you happen to call somebody by the wrong name, then apologize for the right way and correct yourself by saying, “I am sorry, but my brain is full of something else. I am sorry again as I didn’t mean to.” Depersonalizing the slight makes things better.

If someone calls you the wrong name simply evaluate the person who called you. Is he or she a vendor with whom you would be working again? If yes, then you may correct them. If not, then simply ignore it.

An ongoing mistake by a co-worker can be corrected. However, the awkwardness slips when you run into each other regularly and the colleague keeps saying the wrong name every time. You can sometimes joke about it saying, “Actually even my mom forgets my name at times.”

8. Sending Wrong/ Angry Mails:

The golden rule is to never type out a mailing address first and then the actual body. Always type the body of the email, check, edit it and then type the mailing address. This is because you may accidentally hit the ‘Send’ button and an incomplete or unintentional email would be sent. This would be particularly embarrassing when you realize it was not the correct mail.

Another golden rule is never to send a mail when angry. You may type out a mail when angry but send it a few hours later when your anger has ebbed. Also be sure to check the mail after you cool off and before sending it to the intended person.

Most of the times you may edit the mail and make it sound nicer. Sometimes you even realize that it no longer holds significance and simply delete the whole draft! Isn’t it a lot of time, energy and negativity saved?

9. Office Romance:

It is not unusual to come across colleagues in relation with their fellow colleagues. It is also very difficult to keep it private in a place where you spend more than one-third of your 24-hours. It is alright to come across colleagues in relation. If you are in relation with a colleague learn to draw a strict line between your personal and professional relationships. You cannot be huddling together and whispering sweet nothings during a team meeting!

Worse, you cannot go around displaying affection when the rest of your colleagues are working hard together to deliver within deadline. You must draw a strict line of control within the office environment.

Further, if you break up with the colleague awkward moments are bound to creep in between the two of you. It is prudence to keep a stoic silence, act as if he or she never existed and move on. If it becomes too much to handle, you may quit the current job and look for another one.

10. Wardrobe Malfunctions:

One of the mortifying scenarios is to have sweat stains, tea stains or worse- a stubborn oil stain on your shirt. You have no choice but to put up with it till you get back home. You can act as if nothing happened and go on working or borrow a jacket from a colleague to cover the stain. To avoid this kind of scenario, carry a stain remover, sewing kit and a spare jacket in handy.

If you notice a colleague with a button or two of his shirt open or worse- an unzipped fly, then politely say, “Please save some embarrassment.”

11. Private Conversation:

If you happen to hear a private conversation in the break room or near your workstation you may be tempted to overhear. However, it is bad manners to do so. You can simply ignore the conversation and focus on your work.

If it truly disturbs you then you may politely clear your throat to let them know that space is not exactly ‘empty’. If somebody else lets you know that they are unintentionally intruding into your private conversation then politely apologize and walk out of the place. Private conversations are best talked over outside office premises.

12. ‘Love You, Take Care’:

Some school kids accidentally call their teacher ‘Mom’ instead of ‘Ma’am’ and then give a very sheepish smile when they realize. Saying ‘Love you take care’ especially at the end of a telephonic conversation with your boss is unintentional leaving you embarrassed and you can do nothing but give a sheepish smile.

If the relation with your boss is formal, then you can consider an apology. However, it is advisable to overlook the incident and behave normally the next time you face him or her. Getting dramatic and losing sleep is not needed since bosses are normally too busy to notice it. If it really bothers you then you may tend an apology. If the relationship with your boss is a friendly one then you can make a joke of it and say, “I shall simply stick to a bye the next time.”

If you get yourself into a particularly sticky situation there are a thousand ways to recover from it. The best way to recover is to stay prudent, maintain a dignified silence and behave as if everything is normal.

Staying out and behaving normally is the best way to tide over embarrassing moments in office. Whether it is an unintended email, wardrobe malfunction or running into the bathroom, things ease out when left unsaid. Remember, no fire can spread unless air is blown into it. You leave the fire as such it is bound to die in a while. It is best to ignore if you cannot do anything to make it better.