Q: Recently, during a disagreement with a co-worker and friend, I blurted out some embarrassing personal information about her in front of other co-workers. As soon as I said it, I wanted to take it back. Now she won't even look at me, much less talk to me. I've even tried to talk to her through other co-workers, but she continues to give me the cold shoulder. I feel terrible about this. How can I fix it?
A: If we're not careful, we can all let our emotions run away with our mouth. The good news is that you recognize your error and want to make things right. Whether this situation can be fixed is as much dependent upon your co-worker as it is you, but don't let that stop you from doing the right thing.
Apologize: Begin with a sincere apology directly to your co-worker. If she won't accept this face-to-face, it may be appropriate to send her a note, card, or email. Take responsibility for your behavior and don't make excuses like "you made me angry?"
Be careful about your intent: A sincere apology is about owning your mistake not about getting the fix you want. No doubt she feels betrayed by you and there's a chance she may not, now or ever, accept your apology. Make the apology anyway. Let her know that you're willing to make amends and that she can expect better behavior from you in the future.
Stop involving other co-workers: No more trying to talk to your co-worker through third parties. Getting others involved just sets the stage for side-taking that can only make matters worse. It may also suggest that you're sharing more personal information about her with others. Inform other co-workers that this is a personal matter between the two of you and that you need to leave them out of it.
Get help if necessary: If you and your co-worker need to interact in order to do your work, you may need the help of an appropriate third party - mediator, supervisor, human resources - to assist you in creating a new working relationship. While either of you can choose to end your personal relationship, your employer will expect you to work together professionally in order to do your jobs.
Benjamin Franklin said it best: "Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."
- Cheryl Stinski and Karen Dorn of Alternative Resolutions Inc. provide tools for managing communication, conflict, and change. Email altres@alternative resolutions.biz or call 920-850-4527 with any questions you'd like answered in this column.