If you’re something like me, do stupid things every day when, luckily, there’s no one to see: stumble on flat surfaces, button your shirt too quickly and stick the buttons in the wrong hole, get lipstick on your teeth. But if you spend at least 40 hours of your week in the office, you are guaranteed a public gap every now and then. I have perfected three fail-safe steps to help you save the face after a less graceful faux pas at work. Here they are in action.
Face Saver # 1: Act like nothing is wrong
On my third day at a new company, I managed to walk the back of my skirt through three floors of my building and about six blocks in the rush hour streets, past several police cars and at least three packed commuter buses hidden behind my backpack. I don’t mean it was just a little weird – it was at the top. And how did I find out that I had exposed my floral underwear to hundreds of people? It turned out that the attractive thirty-year-old businessman who was walking behind me did not have a funny cell phone call; He laughed at my derriere.
Despite the fact that I was dying inside, I raised my bag, released my skirt, and winked at him before boarding my crowded train. I heard a few giggles as I made my way to an empty room, mostly from people with window seats on the platform side of the train, but most people seemed pretty impressed.
Face Saver # 2: Be the first to laugh
One day I did a thoughtful pose while listening to my boss: I crossed my arms and casually leaned against his doorpost – and fell out of the door into the hall. I have managed to regain my balance (and most of my dignity) without completely wiping it out. Before he said a single word, I straightened my hair and said, “Wow, my coffee had more kick than I realized today!” What else could he say afterwards? We had a good laugh before we continued our conversation and I took my thoughtful pose on a chair.
Face Saver # 3: Join the humor
On my first day in a new cube after a promotion and a big move, I almost knocked myself out as I turned to grab something from the other side of my U-shaped work area, and my forehead at the corner of a closet had broken. Within seconds it looked like I had a golf ball on my forehead. At the time, it seemed like a good idea to tell the girl in the next cube what had happened and ask her to help me find an ice pack. I was wrong.
After she stopped laughing, she took my arm and led me to our boss’s office. “Dan,” she announced loudly, “Kristen just hit her head on her closet.” “Excuse me?” He raised an eyebrow. “I hit my head,” I said articulately. “In your cube?” His other eyebrow rose. And then he started laughing too. It didn’t end there. Within minutes, I was known company-wide as the girl who got a concussion in her cube.
The next day there was a meeting of the directors, where one of the main topics of discussion was how I hit my head in the cube (maybe this indicated a change in space). A man I hardly know from another department came up to me and offered to get me a helmet (laughs, Chuckles). Last week, some well-meaning people from my department brought me leftover bubble wrap: “Here, would you like to put that on your closets?” I wanted to crawl under my desk and die, but instead I happily said, “Thank you!” and stuck the bubble wrap on my closet – and I haven’t heard a word about it since.
Go down in history
In 1937, Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Nobody can make you inferior without your consent.” And in the office, no one can make you feel like a complete idiot without your permission. Often times, people around you won’t even notice that you screwed it up unless you make a big deal of it (or of course you bare your butt to the world), so if you find a quick fix and go on your way , Your slip can go unnoticed. Even if your embarrassment is fairly public, keep in mind that the first to laugh at her is the first to act out. And you can always rely on the fact that one of your employees has her own shameful moment and takes the heat away from you.
* This article originally appeared in Desire Los Angeles in May 2005.