You said what at work?!

A letter writer made a dumb joke at work and she just can’t get over the embarrassment.

Don’t worry, says our elder — it will all feel better in time.

Dear EWC

I am a 25 year old accountant. I work for a small contractor of accounting services. We have about 10 people. We also have a director who is about 35 (I don’t know his age since it’s not my business, but I would guess at that). I only mention his age since the way you speak to people often depends on how old they are. You are expected to be more formal with someone much older than you. This man is older, but still relatively young and probably someone you can be more informal with but not overly so. He is also someone I’ve gotten to know better but still not very well.

Anyway, we were at a meeting in which I was being given feedback during which I felt I made a couple of inappropriate jokes. One was when he shared a story about how a partner had once given him a hard time about a team member of ours, and how he told her he disagreed and didn’t blame her. I made a joke that was likely inappropriate and still embarrasses me. I said, “That takes guts”. This next part is the truly embarrassing one. I said, “This is who’s paying you” (referring to the partner, since she does control certain things for us). Another blunder was when he asked me about how I should handle a certain partner. He had called her joking names like “crazy” and “high strung”. I said in a way to make a point but that I still meant in a half joking way, that you have to “toughen up” around this partner.

I can tell you he didn’t show signs of upset ness. I was actually given a performance based bonus at year end at some point after the meeting. I also have another colleague who was in the room who is someone still very friendly with me and chats with me whenever I see her. She even texted me this past Christmas to wish me a merry one. I feel very embarrassed about these comments and wonder what my colleagues must think of me now. I feel I must have hurt their feelings by saying these things. While my colleagues haven’t seemed to showed signs of disappointment, I wonder what their true feelings are. How can I overcome my feelings of embarrassment and what should I do in my future dealings with my colleagues to mend what happened?

Mr.Bill replies

Thanks for writing to us and sharing this personal story, and your angst about it. I sure get what you are saying. I sometimes still think back on things I said in past years and sorta cringe at something I said. And I, too, wondered what people thought. I can assure you from personal experience that the wondering and embarrassment does diminish with time.

Over the years, one of the things I have told myself many times, and one of the ways I cope with what I consider either inappropriate or just plain stupid things I have said, comes from that old musician and philosopher, Willie Nelson. Try telling yourself this, reminding yourself of this lyric: “I know exactly what I’d change if I’d go back in time somehow, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.”

Yes, you said those things. In retrospect you’d change them if you could go back. But there’s nothing you can do about it now. Let it go.

The name of the song is: There’s Nothing I Can Do About It Now. It might be worth a minute of your time to Google the song and listen. I know that in the past and over the years it has helped me many times. For you, if nothing else, it might entertain you a little, make you smile. And that might be a pretty good thing for you as you continue to think about worry about the two situations in your letter.

From the information in your letter, it does not sound like the people involved are giving your comments nearly as much attention or consideration as you are. No signs of being upset. A performance bonus. No follow-up comments or discussions about it. A Christmas greeting from a co-worker who also never referred to or brought it up.

If you had said something mean-spirited, or insulting, that might warrant different advice. However, from what you said and their reactions, or lack of reaction, I think you can confidently conclude that while you are worrying and regretting having said, no one else is. They probably don’t even remember it. I really don’t think you need to continue to feel embarrassed, which is easy for me to say but more difficult to do. Remember, I, too, said some things I wish I hadn’t, remembered them and felt embarrassed or silly or stupid, and for some time never got over those feelings. Eventually, they will diminish and go away.

My thought about getting over the embarrassment is to focus on the future, being, not necessary better, but more thoughtful. Be mindful of your interactions in the future, and let your future interactions define you for yourself as well as for others.

Here is the one piece of advice that should guide you in those future interactions: Think before you speak. As you enter a meeting or conversation, remind yourself to not blurt out comments that pop into your head. Remind yourself to be professional and to think before talking. Consciously think those things.

As for what has already happened, as I said, I doubt that anyone is spending as much time on or is upset about this as you are. Even so, I suspect you are tempted to talk with them and try and make it better. As tempting as that is, and it was for me, too, every time I did that, I usually only brought up something they had forgotten, or I made the situation worse. In a couple of cases I was told, “Oh, forget it. I have.” While that was nice to hear, I still remember saying what I said and felt bad. That is on me, in my head. As it is on you, in your head, too. With that in mind, I would not do anything further about those two situations with your co-workers.

Letter #: 434256
Category: Career

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