My Stupid Mouth
While successes are great, true lessons come when you mess up. There is a reason that learning something “the hard way” is generally where the lessons that really stick with you come from.
A recent mess-up reminded me of the song by John Mayer called “My Stupid Mouth.” While he was referring to saying something stupid to a date, my verbal slip was to my boss’ boss, the VP (yikes!).
I was leading a conference call with my entire team, my boss and his boss, going through the final readout on a project we had been working on. A few minutes before the meeting my boss mentioned that his boss was thinking of making him permanently move across the country so they could work in the same office. To make a long story short, during my presentation to my VP I referenced how it was important for my boss to interface with leaders from other business units (all of which were in the office on the other side of the country), somewhat supporting the idea my VP had.
I didn’t see it myself, but one of my team members said my boss cringed when the words came out of my mouth (and he mentioned my mistake the moment the call was over). Naturally I didn’t say it on purpose, but it was one of those moments where I realized my statement didn’t come out right as I was saying it. That was only strike 1.
After the meeting I immediately apologized, saying that I didn’t say it on purpose. Later on when our team went out to lunch I referred that we should start a campaign to ensure my boss didn’t have to move… the lighthearted statement did not go over too well with my boss. That was strike 2. The truth is (and rightfully so) that my boss was worried about having to move (or affecting his job by not moving) and I made things even worse, especially since my boss entrusted me with some sensitive information. I hurt that trust.
I decided to avoid strike 3 by keeping my mouth shut after that.
The question arises, how should I have handled the situation?
Obviously, avoiding screwing up in the first place is a start. It is important to realize that part of everyone’s job is to make their boss look good; doing this will serve you well. If your boss realizes this (which should be the case if you make to consider who your boss will be when you are choosing your job), then they will reward you when it comes to bonuses, promotions and the best projects…. But the truth is that it is near impossible to avoid screwing up, so the key is to mitigate the damage.
Generally the best way to mitigate the damage is to apologize sincerely, clearly and immediately. From there, don’t do what I did, which is bring the subject up again (and especially don’t make a joke of it). After the incident, don’t continually bring the mistake up and do everything in your control to make sure you do not make a mistake like that ever again.
Time will tell whether my blunder will lead to my boss having to move (I sure hope not), but I definitely learned a good lesson (the hard way).
Mr. Biz, OUT.