Recovering from a mistake: How to repair your reputation and re-establish career viability

Article by Lida Citroën

male managers, woman presenting, stressed womanWhile we hate to admit it, mistakes happen.

We post something on social media that we wish we could take back. We blurt out a joke at work only to find it was offensive to colleagues. We undermine our credibility at the office and can’t get a promotion. We share someone’s good news before they wanted it made public. Whilst our intention may have been innocent, mistakes can result in reputation damage that limits opportunities and potential to grow our career, undermines our credibility, and hurts people we care about.

Tolerance for mistakes at work seems to be low these days. As cancel culture,  public shaming and other ways of holding our colleagues accountable for their mistakes grow and take on new forms, more and more professionals are finding themselves in the crosshairs of a reputation crisis. If that happens to you, here are some things to do:

First:

  1. Separate emotion from fact. Do you believe you have a reputation crisis because you think people at work are gossiping behind your back or have you been told you made a mistake? Do you feel you deserve a promotion (and aren’t getting it) or are your skills lacking? Try to separate what you feel about the situation from what is actually happening.
  2. Did your joke offend your co-workers? Did that social media post you made come across tone deaf to others’ situation? If you’ve offended, upset or hurt people, apologize to them in person (if possible). If not, call them. The very last resort should be to first post an apology on social media. Always offer a heart-felt apology to the person or persons hurt.
  3. Enlist support. To help you understand the circumstances clearly and make smart decisions, enlist help from a network of advisors, mentors, friends, and colleagues who can give you objective input and guidance. You may be seeing things through a cloud of heightened emotion right now.
  4. Set realistic goals. If a Google search of your name returns negative press, you’ll have a tough time removing the results. Instead, set your intention on populating positive search hits by blogging, becoming active on LinkedIn and highlighting topics which show you favorably.
  5. Communicate your desire to remedy the situation. Let it be known that what happened was a mistake and you take accountability for it. Then, communicate that you want to earn back trust and repair the situation that damaged your reputation.

Next:

  1. Decide if you need to apologize publicly. Sometimes, you can make things worse by calling too much attention to your mistake, so discuss this option with your support network and advisors. Similarly, staying silent may lead the online community to think you’re shirking responsibility for your mistake, which could damage future opportunities.
  2. Evaluate whether the reputation damage is permanent or temporary. This might be hard to assess on your own, so perhaps enlist your manager for guidance. Did your mistake cause lasting repercussions at the company or will you be forgiven over time? Did you shame the CEO on Facebook or did you miss a client deadline? Damage that is permanent and unforgivable at your present employer might require a job change to survive.
  3. Demonstrate your commitment to re-establish credibility. It may take time and repetition to earn back trust from people you hurt or impacted. Give them time to learn to support you again by showing that you are worthy of their forgiveness and loyalty.

Finally:

  1. Recognize what’s beyond your control. Some people will not see your side of the story or be interested in changing their views of you. You can only control yourself and how you respond.
  2. Be patient with others and yourself. While you may want the mistake to go away quickly, others may not move so fast. Be patient with them as they process what happened and evaluate whether to forgive you and move on, or not. Similarly, be gentle with yourself as you take accountability. Humans make mistakes. What matters most is how you handle what happens afterwards – by accepting responsibility, showing that you take accountability and remedying the situation you are doing what you can to make things better. Resist beating yourself up for a mistake.
  3. Strive for consistency, not perfection. Going forward, look for ways to consistently demonstrate your commitment to self-improvement and avoiding mistakes. Building back your reputation takes time and necessitates consistency. Trust in yourself and enlist supporters who will help you grow your reputation in positive, healthy ways.

Mistakes are inevitable, but some mistakes are more public and damaging than others. As best you can, be thoughtful about the areas where the landmines exist (social media, using humor at work, etc.) and repair mistakes with people you’ve impacted. Then, consistently behave in positive ways to help re-establish credibility and reputation after a misstep.

About the author

Lida CitroenLida Citroën, author of CONTROL THE NARRATIVE: The Executive’s Guide To Building, Pivoting And Repairing Your Reputation (Kogan Page, May 2021), is an award-winning branding and reputation management expert who designs and enhances the identities of executives, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders globally. As CEO and founder of LIDA360, LLC, Citroën is sought-after for her knowledge of personal brand development, reputation management, leadership communication, and online positioning.

As a professional keynote speaker and presenter, Citroën’s popular TEDx talk and multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning showcase her empowering delivery style and message. She regularly presents business workshops on reputation management, personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication, and using social media to self-promote, helping employees and leaders build a personal brand that supports the business.

Citroën has authored several books: Reputation 360: Creating power through personal branding, Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition, Engaging with Veteran Talent: A quick and practical guide to sourcing, hiring, onboarding, and developing Veteran employees, and Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty.


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