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How to Recover from Upsetting Your Boss – Like a Pro

Estimated reading time: 2 mins

You made a gaffe and your boss is upset with you. Don’t panic. Here’s how to fix it.

Compose yourself. This can be a shock. I know. You’re probably feeling vulnerable about your job and your future. Don’t spend too long on this, but let the adrenalin subside and get ready to put the situation right. Don’t go bleating to colleagues and say something you might regret. Take this on the chin, and accept the wrap. But don’t beat yourself up about it.

Request private time. Ask your boss (or your boss’s Personal Assistant) to find 15 minutes to meet one-to-one. Do this quick. Or if your boss has an ‘open-door’ policy, and their door is open, then ask to talk now and shut the door. You’re ready to fix the problem.

Apologize sincerely. It’s the most obvious thing to do. Yet it’s surprising how often people don’t do it. Not because they don’t want to. But because they’re too mortified, embarrassed and nervous to do it. But if you don’t, it will look like you don’t care. Grit your teeth, and apologize. Come out with it and don’t sugar-coat it. Tell it like you mean it: “[name]… I messed up. I am sorry. It won’t happen again.” Don’t joke, or say something foolish out of nerves that could make the situation a problem again.

Take the lesson. Your boss may choose to dress you down (if still upset) or offer you a ‘learning opportunity’ (if now calm) – whatever their state of mind, listen to what is being been said, without interruption. You can choose to accept and graciously disappear. If you don’t agree, don’t get defensive, but rather ask your boss if you can provide an alternative view – but understand that you might not resolve.

Thank. Your boss has probably given you another chance. Say thank you and leave it at that!

Warning: Don’t buy gifts. This isn’t just inappropriate, and it isn’t just unnecessary, it is most likely against your organization’s policy. This could be seen as ‘currying favor’, if misinterpreted, or your boss could take offense. Besides, it looks phony.

Warning: Consider your legal position. For all of the above, I am referring to the minor mis-demeanour. If your mistake has contractual or legal implications, then you should probably talk to a qualified legal expert. Admitting guilt could land you in hot water!

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This post is part 9 of 15 in the series Coping with Defeat
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About the author /


Simon is a creative and passionate business leader dedicated to having fun in the pursuit of high performance and personal development. He is co-founder of Applied Change, a Business Change consultancy based in the UK. Simon is also an Ambassador for Gloucestershire business. Simon is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development.

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