Career mistakes can be remedied

By Joanna Mathers

There are practical ways to smooth the waters if workers genuinely want to repair their reputations
Inappropriate messaging within organisations can lead to upheavals.
Inappropriate messaging within organisations can lead to upheavals.

The recent Colin Craig debacle is a cautionary tale of reputation gone awry. We all know the details; rich minor-party politician fancies press secretary, she gets sick of his advances, all hell breaks loose.

Although it's been cringeworthy for all involved, we can learn a thing or two from Craig's epic fall from grace.

Whereas mistakes - vomiting at a work party or declaring your love for a colleague - may be embarrassing, they don't have to sound the death knell for your career.

Alan Pettersen from HR consultancy company Positive People says he's been called in to remedy many an embarrassing incident over the course of his career.

"One up-and-coming junior had far too much to drink at a Christmas party and then become amorous and made a plan to charm her manager into considering a pay increase by sitting on his lap, all the time being closely observed by his wife," he says.

"Another example was an inappropriate office romance that took off between two co-workers and created all sorts of tensions in the workplace. Someone else stored sexy gear on company premises, and there have been cases inappropriate messaging and communicating within organisations."

Facing up to your colleagues and managers after an embarrassing incident can be extremely awkward. Pettersen says that your actions after a mistake need to be geared towards positively repairing your reputation; he says there are a number of practical ways to help smooth the waters.

"The first thing to do is to genuinely acknowledge the mistake and, if appropriate, to apologise to those who may have been negatively affected by it."

He says that if people have been hurt by your actions, there will need to be a period in which relationships are rebuilt.

"Be prepared to talk openly about what happened for a period of time after it has happened, so that the boil is lanced and healing can start."

He says that there is always bound to be some "noise" around the situation and you will need to ride out the storm.

"Keep your head and work hard at repairing the damage caused," he says. "People will respect a person who tries to make amends through honest effort."

Averill Gordon is a senior PR lecturer at Auckland University of Technology.
She says reputation is one of the cornerstones of public relations, and the principles that apply to organisational reputation can be commuted to the individual as well.

She recommends a three-pronged approach to reputation restoration.

"Firstly, it is useful to associate yourself with opinion leaders [in the organisation]. If you have such a person speaking on your behalf, it can really help to change attitudes."

Having a respected senior figure onside can help in a number of ways.

"If you are genuine about wanting to remedy the situation and to change, such a person can act as your mentor. If you take their advice and make positive changes you will have an advocate in the future as well."

More advice is to align yourself with a good cause. Being seen to do good can powerfully mould opinion, but it needs to be genuine.

"There should also be no ambiguity around this," she says. "It would be a bit confusing if Colin Craig started working with Women's Refuge for example."

Finally she suggests highlighting the positive parts of your life. "Establish yourself as someone with a family or other positive relationships."

She says that this will help to draw attention to different aspects of your character and move attention away from the embarrassing incident.

Pettersen says that clear communication is also important. Communicating the reasons for your behaviour, without making excuses, can help people gain some insight into the situation.

"If people know why you behave in a certain way they are more likely to forgive and forget. Be sensitive to the consequences that your behaviour may have created for others and work very hard, in a genuine and sincere way, to repair the damage that has been caused."

He says it's also important to do some soul searching around why you acted in such a way.

"It's also good to work out what the positives from the situation are. Certainly there will be some learning that can be taken forward, and this will help maintain your confidence."

If the misdeed is very significant you may not be able to repair relationships in your current role. Leaving a role after a misdemeanor can be traumatic, but it's possible to reframe the situation when you move on.

If your reputation precedes you it's vital to be honest and up front about what happened, but you also need to own your message and frame yourself in the best possible light.

"Be honest but don't labour the point," says Gordon.
"Talk up your good points, don't obfuscate. Be brave and don't blame others for your actions."

- NZ Herald

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