“I’ve said the wrong thing!”

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In my last article, I wrote about “sitting at the table” – getting more involved in the meetings you support, partnering with your upline for a better outcome of each meeting and gathering the confidence to participate.

In taking my own advice, I sat at the table for a meeting I was invited to. I carefully listened to the dialogue taking place, I took copious notes, and felt I had a good grasp of the content being discussed. And then… a question was asked by one of the leaders. I figured I had enough knowledge from sitting in these meetings to offer an answer for the question. After sharing my answer, the room became quiet. I think I may have heard a cricket or two. I felt all the eyes in the room looking at me. My answer was wrong, and I knew it the moment the words left my mouth. My face flushed, my blood pressure and heart rate increased, my mouth went dry, and I think I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. How was I supposed to recover from this and regain my professional dignity?

The website, eventplanning.about.com shares some top business etiquette mistakes that can be made during meetings.
1.Failing to speak to appropriate topics. Several topics are best avoided when in group situations: personal health, financial woes, family concerns and gossip are items that should not be discussed. The conversation in the meeting may be going in a certain direction, and a blurt to compare the current discussion topic to someone’s personal life is not wise. Keep that connection in your head; don’t let it pass through your lips.

2.Failing to yield respective courtesies to others. Side-table conversations may be had during any meeting. It is critical in these situations to pay attention to the cues given by the leader of the meeting. You may notice he or she is trying to quiet the group by talking a little louder, or gathering a few people closest to them into a conversation hoping to regain the attention of everyone else at the table. Do not continue talking to those around you simply because you want to make sure your point is heard. Quickly wrap up the conversation, or mention to that person that your conversation may be continued off-line after the meeting.

3.Failing to follow business etiquette rules. Your meeting may be one that is relaxed, or it may be one that is formal depending on who is at the table and what topics are being discussed. It is good to know what etiquette rules your company follows in each of these situations. In relaxed meetings, it may be appropriate to share jokes and laugh together. In formal meetings, it may be expected that no one speaks without permission from the lead executive. Look around the room and follow the etiquette that has been established by the group. Making jokes and trying to establish a relaxed atmosphere in an executive top-level meeting may cause much distress to the executives and yourself.

In my situation, I failed to speak to an appropriate topic. I was convinced that I had a full grasp of the context of the topic. However, had I paid a little more attention and not been so focused on what I wanted to say, I would have realized that I was speaking to an entirely different topic.

If breaking a business etiquette rule has ever happened to you, OfficeTeam says you’re in good company(1). They offer these tips for rebounding from embarrassing work moments:
1.Remain calm. It’s easy to lose your nerves after a slipup, but try to keep your composure. Take a deep breath and collect yourself.

2.Own up. Acknowledging a blunder before someone else does can alleviate any awkward tension that may arise. If appropriate, address the situation in a humorous way to make everyone feel more at ease.

3.Make amends. If your misstep affected another person, immediately apologize and take steps to ensure a similar mistake does not happen again.

4.Move on. Rather than dwell on that error, focus on getting back on track. The faster you recover, the less memorable the incident will be.

It’s certainly understandable to make a mistake; we all make them. But knowing how to lower the blood pressure and alleviate any potential humiliation can make those mistakes much more tolerable.

(1) http://www.seacoastonline.com/articles/20110124-BIZ-101240316

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About Author

Julie M. Hill is an Executive Assistant at Spectrum Health, a non-profit health system based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is currently president of the Professional Administrative Support Staff (PASS) group which consists of over 400 members of various support staff positions within Spectrum Health. Julie has over 20 years of experience in the administrative professional role and has used her experiences as a mentor, author and leader. She received a Phenomenal Woman award through her company acknowledging her innovative ideas and commitment to service in health care and the community. Julie will be completing her bachelor's degree in business administration in the spring of 2014.

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