So, you behaved badly and now you’re wondering if you can recover.
You threw a tantrum, yelled at someone, hurled an insult, fired off a nasty email, or made some other boneheaded move that you wish you could take back.
So, you’re worried about your job, your future career, and just about everything. As one who often forgets to think before I speak (or before I send an email), I have to say I’ve been there more times that I would like. I’ve gotten better over the years, but I still make these mistakes. And I’ve learned how to recover, if not entirely, as best one can.
You can’t take it back but you can make it better, and hopefully mitigate a good part of the damage. Here’s how.
1. Admit you were wrong.
Most people will dig their heels in and refuse to admit wrongdoing. They won’t examine their behaviour and will look for confirmation that they are right, even if they have to look very hard, rather than admit to themselves and others that they are wrong. This is one of the biggest problems in the world and can be your undoing if you’re not careful. Convinced you’re not wrong, not even a little bit? If you re-examine the situation, you’ll probably find that you’re at least partly in the wrong, even if it’s just for throwing a tantrum, flying off the handle, or being rude Put your ego aside and admit it to the person to whom you behaved badly. Say, “that was wrong of me.”
Apologize swiftly, profusely, and without reservation. Say, “I’m sorry.” Many people have trouble with this part because they feel as though they are debasing themselves. But this isn’t true. When you apologize, you actually regain some of your power, because you aren’t holding onto something stupid anymore – in this case, your pride, ego, and/or anger. You also re-establish your position as a (somewhat) mature and reasonable adult. And if the other person refuses to forgive you, they suddenly become the unreasonable one. Now, the tables have shifted a little. Not entirely. You’re still a jerk, but a bit less of one.
3. Don’t follow any of this with a “but.”
Don’t say “I was wrong, but so were you.” Don’t say, “I’m sorry, but you wouldn’t listen to me.” That is not a real admission of wrongdoing or a real apology. It’s a lead-in to stating your case all over again and trying to prove you were right. Just say “I’m sorry.” And leave it at that. Maybe they were also wrong, but they can admit it when they feel like doing so, which might be never. That’s fine. You can only fix your part of the problem. Don’t expect the injured party or parties to forgive you immediately either. That’s up to them. But the ball is in their court now.
4. Change your behaviour.
Don’t do it again. OK, if you’re anything like me this is an ongoing (possibly endless) process, and you’ll probably do it again. That’s OK. But try. Do your best. And when it happens again, go through the same steps. You’ll find it happens less and less.
It’s never too late
For what it’s worth, if you’ve behaved badly in the past – even 10 years ago – and never apologized, it’s not too late. You can always seek out the person to whom you were a jerk and say you’re sorry. Some people might think this is overkill. I think there’s never a bad time to be gracious. If the person remembers, they will appreciate the gesture. If they’ve totally forgotten about it, they’ll think you overly conscientious. And that’s not such a terrible thing.
After that, you’ve done what you can. Time to move on. And try to do better next time.