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How to recover from work from home embarrassment

Mistakes are a part of life for pretty much everyone, on and off the job. After all, who hasn’t had a cringe-worthy experience at a meeting or work gathering?

And as the internet has proven to all of us on more than one occasion, virtual (as opposed to in-person) meetings and calls present their own particular brand of potentially awkward situations.

Now figuring prominently among their ranks? Having your video filter stuck on the cat setting for a virtual court case, uttering the now infamous words: "I’m not a cat" to the sitting judge and having it become a viral sensation worldwide.

More commonly, who hasn’t had an interruption during a work call from a screaming child, insistent delivery person, noisy pet, or partner? Working from home, sometimes in shared spaces without doors or any sort of sound-proofing, has many of us scrambling to turn the sound or video off more often than we would like.

And sure, there are a few things we can do to avoid certain kinds of embarrassing circumstances:

  • taking calls with headphones on
  • keeping cameras aimed away from walkways
  • muting ourselves when we’re not speaking
  • checking for filters (animal, vegetable, or adorable kitten)

But there’s no viable way to ensure we’ll never end up in a cringe-inducing situation. As completely imperfect human beings, we’re going to make mistakes, no matter where we’re working from. And chances are, we’re going to feel flustered at best, and ashamed at worst.

So though your cheeks may flush and your palms may sweat, just remember that this too shall pass and—it’s important to note— it’s all within the normal range of physiological reactions to embarrassment.

What to do after an embarrassing event

Despite how uncomfortable it feels in the moment, it’s possible to bounce back from both major and minor embarrassments. Here are a few tips on how:

1. Stay calm.

If this sounds very challenging, it’s because it is. As mentioned above, our bodies physically react to embarrassing situations, so it’s no wonder we tend to feel flustered. But even under blush-worthy circumstances, there are steps we can take to find our way back to a calmer, clearer headspace.

When it’s possible, take a moment (off-camera) to do a quick round of deep-breathing or mindfulness meditation. Both have been shown to help lower blood pressure levels and heart rate. If a short break isn’t possible, try to focus on your breathing, and keep yourself from reacting in a state of panic (which is never great).

2. Own what happened.

Whether or not what happened was 100% your fault, skip the blame game in favour of acknowledging and owning your own role and responsibility in what happened. Avoid pointing fingers (or paws) and making excuses.

This step isn’t always easy, but it certainly goes a long way in restoring respect for everyone involved.

3. Have a sense of humor.

When an embarrassing event happens to you (and doesn’t involve someone else), sometimes the easiest way to diffuse any tension is by laughing it off. Have a sense of humor about what happened, and have a little fun at your own expense. This can be as simple as a quick interjection of "awkward!".

Note that this is perhaps not an appropriate tactic when the embarrassing situation in question involves other people.

4. Make amends as needed.

Did you just stick your foot in your mouth and accidentally insult or offend someone? Have you somehow put a coworker or contractor on the spot? It happens.

Quickly apologize and change the subject on camera, and make further amends as needed privately, post-meeting.

Moving forward post-embarrassment

Once you’ve done what’s necessary to turn the page. Don’t spend time reliving your memory of what happened. If you have trouble not ruminating on what went wrong, it may be time to start working on compassion and self-acceptance. Sure, you may never forget something that went spectacularly wrong, but you can learn to be more objective about who you were (and are) and your thoughts about the matter.

Not sure how to move on? Learn how to work with unhelpful thoughts (about embarrassing episodes or anything else) in FoundationsChallenge your thoughts program, or listen your way to self-acceptance with our guided Mindful acceptance meditation.

What are some ways you deal with embarrassment while working from home? Share your tips (and embarrassing moments) with us at foundations@koahealth.com​.