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I Had to Apologise for Offending My Colleague: A Case Study

By: Maggie Lonsdale BA (hons) - Updated: 4 Nov 2012 | comments*Discuss
Apologise Colleague Offensive Acceptable

Work etiquette is a veritable minefield. We all want to do the right thing but sometimes we make mistakes. The key thing is to learn from these mistakes and ensure that we do not do it again.

In some situations, the nature of the mistake is made more acute by the people that are present. That is not to say that a mistake is ever acceptable, but it can be more obvious and picked up earlier.

A Real Life Example

For 34 year old sales manager Justin Lucas, a conscientious professional working in a large packaging company, his mistake was one that nearly cost him his job.

Justin told us, “I’ve always prided myself on being able to get on with anyone and everyone in the workplace. I’m careful not to offend anyone or use offensive language – I don’t want to anyway. So when I was called into my boss’s office on a ‘serious matter’, I was very concerned.”

Dealing With an Official Complaint

Justin’s boss explained to him that he had received a complaint from a relatively new member of staff. The sales assistant had felt that he wanted to make an official complaint when Justin had described someone’s lack of sales as ‘gay’ in a group meeting and, as a gay man, he had found this very offensive.

Justin continued, “I felt so ashamed of myself. It wasn’t a word I used often, but I could see how that must have upset him and other staff. I told my boss that I would apologise straight away and that I would be extra careful with my language, but he felt that I needed to be made an example of and wanted to give me a verbal warning. I really didn’t want a warning on my file, especially as, in the tough economic climate, there could be any excuse for letting someone go. I really had to argue my case with my boss, making it clear that I would never do it again and that I was aware of the problems my language had caused.”

Making the Apology

Luckily for Justin, his boss did not give him a verbal warning, but it was obvious that the management would be watching him closely. His boss contacted the sales assistant into his office and Justin gave a wholehearted apology, explaining that he was very sorry to have offended him and that he understood why the use of the word ‘gay’ in that context was upsetting and inappropriate.

Justin concluded, “To be honest, I felt really embarrassed. It was clear that I shouldn’t have made the comment and, even though perhaps my colleague didn’t need to make such a fuss over it, I know that I will never say anything like that again. It nearly ruined my career and it highlighted how easy it is to offend someone in the workplace.”

This also highlights that whatever you may think is acceptable, if there is someone that is offended by your language or behaviour, you must realise that you may not be the best judge. After all, many words or phrases that were considered ‘acceptable’ in previous generations are now considered universally unacceptable.

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