Own it, understand what is underneath it, and then you can move forward.
Q: Help! I just got out of a conversation in which I know I came off as both pretentious and arrogant. That’s not who I am; how do I make up for this gaffe? —Lynette, program manager
A: As a matter of fact, that’s exactly who you are — at least a little bit! Own it, understand what is underneath it, and then you can move forward.
You have probably got some embarrassment and shame going on, so start by letting go of that. Be kind to yourself, just as you would a friend who slips up now and then. There are multiple benefits to this. First, if you are typically pretty harsh on people, you will get practice on showing forbearance. Also, if you are busy beating yourself up, you will distract yourself from getting your work done. Finally, and very importantly, you will not be able to truly think through root causes and change your behavior if you are in an emotional cloud.
I have noticed that, often, our less-favorable behavior tends to emerge when we are stressed. In your situation, I’m wondering what types of stress behavior you usually exhibit. My hunch is that a more abrasive and haughty side may tend to show up.
If that is the case, consider why this conversation would have triggered it.
And then go further to think about other situations where you may be at risk of behaving this way. You may have just noticed this, but others may have been experiencing it all along in other situations. Consider talking to people you trust to see if there is a pattern here. If so, be open to hearing feedback that may not be comfortable, and be appreciative that this potentially destructive behavior has come to your attention.
You can then develop some prevention strategies. For example, you may realize that when you feel insecure, you tend to show off and seem arrogant. Or it may be related to being too busy or having stresses outside of work. Study yourself to know which situations bring up this insecurity so that you can police your behavior.
As far as making up for it, this depends on a few factors.
First, how bad was it, really? This may be looming larger in your head than for your co-worker. It may be that the best thing is to just let it go and concentrate on improving in the future. As they say, “least said, soonest mended.”
But you may have done some damage. If you have reason to think that the relationship was impaired, it may be appropriate to say something. Just owning up with “I thought about what I said, and am not comfortable with it. Sorry — here is the message I intended” could be helpful.
You will establish yourself as a straight shooter who isn’t afraid to apologize. And if it’s a work friend you are somewhat close to, a light “who was that pompous jerk?” comment may be enough to clear the air.
Change isn’t easy, especially if it is a previously undetected behavior. Forgive yourself — and call yourself on it — when you slip, and use it as an occasion for further learning and development.
Submit questions to Liz Reyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.