How to Recover after a Bad Conversation with Your Boss

Picture this: you are in a meeting with your boss and it’s going horribly. Perhaps you are getting too emotional or maybe you didn’t adequately prepare for the discussion. Whatever the situation, all you can think about is getting out of there….now! You somehow manage to make your exit and flee safely to your work space. It’s only then that you begin to think about what happens next. The steps you take after you’ve handled things badly are incredibly important.


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    Take a deep breath. While admittedly you may have played things differently given a second chance at the same conversation, it’s unlikely that one bad interaction will ruin your career. And the reality is that this actually could be a great opportunity to show your boss how you handle yourself in a tough spot. This probably won’t be the last time something doesn’t go as planned and proving your ability to be mature and keep a level head is a fantastic trait that every manager appreciates and rewards.
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    Keep your mouth shut. Your first inclination may be to run to a friend at work to replay the incident; however, this is probably the worst career move you could make. Your reputation at work should always be your number one priority and as soon as you share the details of a private conversation with your boss, your failure to communicate has the chance to become public. While “your bestie at the office” may never share it to hurt you intentionally, they may vent to others in an effort to support you. But the last thing you need is for your boss to hear the sordid details around the office.
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    Give your boss some time and space. As much as you might want to run right back to your boss and talk things out, time is your friend. This is especially important if you plan to apologize for the way you handled the situation. Apologies should be heartfelt and will appear much more sincere if you’ve taken the sanctuary of a little time and space before giving one. Additionally, your boss is busy. If the conversation was a train wreck, chances are good that it already took more time from their day than was planned or warranted. Respect their time and schedule until you find a more appropriate time to continue the discussion.
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    Talk about it again later, as appropriate, without making it a "big deal". This step depends a lot on your relationship with your boss. If the conversation was relatively minor and you think it's best to just move on, skip this step.
    • If you guys are on particularly friendly terms, you may just be able to casually mention, "Oh hey, sorry about the conversation earlier. I wasn't as prepared as I'd like to have been, and went down the wrong track. If you want to talk about it again, let me know; I'll be sure to have my thoughts more clear by then."
    • If you have a more formal relationship, you may consider approaching it formally as an apology, in a moment when they have some free time. However, this does risk making a bigger deal of the event; if you think your boss will have forgotten about it shortly anyway, just move on, learn from the conversation, and do better next time.
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    Learn from the experience. Bosses understand that mistakes happen and a good one will admit that they have made their own. But they also expect top performers to learn from their mistakes. Think through the conversation again and try to figure out where things went wrong. Did you say something that caused a reaction from your boss that led to the end result? Or perhaps you didn’t fully understand what was being said and decided to wing it. Regardless, learn from your mistake and vow not to make the same one again.

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Categories: Interacting with Bosses