I bet you’ve worked with a few jerks over the course of your career. And whenever you figure out that someone’s not very friendly, you swear to yourself that you’ll never, ever be like that person. After all, you want people to like you at the office, so why would you go out of your way to annoy them?
But there are some subtle ways that even the nicest people accidentally offend their co-workers. Here are a few of the most common ones, with solutions for bouncing back after you’ve realized you’ve made the mistake.
1. You Unknowingly Poke Fun at Their Upbringing
Everyone has strong opinions about dumb things, from the best nostalgic TV shows, to your elementary lunchbox snacks, to the worst hometowns. I’ve honestly lost count of the number of times I’ve said, “My commute stinks, but at least I don’t live in that neighborhood.”
Or even worse, “Yeah, that seems like a good deal for a plane ticket, but why would you ever want to go there?” And in each case, I’ve learned that someone across from me either grew up in one of those places or travels there for a beloved family vacation each year.
How to Recover
There isn’t necessarily a silver-bullet solution to bouncing back from saying, “Hey, the way you grew up is the worst!” Your co-workers tend to take pride in that kind of thing. But I’ve found that a little self-deprecating humor can go a long way.
After all, I’m from what many people call the armpit of America. Colleagues will find it difficult not to laugh with you if take a jab at yourself in the same breath.
2. You’ll Offer Help That’s Unwanted—and Flat Out Wrong
You should be commended for offering help whenever you see fit. That means you’re a good teammate, right? In most cases, yes.
But there are also times when you interject on something that you’re not quite up to speed on. And even though your intentions are good, it’s easy to annoy your co-workers by offering a bit of advice they didn’t ask for—and then being completely wrong because you didn’t know exactly what was going on in the first place.
How to Recover
Here’s where a simple apology can go a long way. I can still remember a time when I was “corrected” about a stat I used in a piece that someone thought was interpreted incorrectly.
And even though I tried to rebuff the advice politely, I got radio silence afterwards—which was totally irritating. If you’re wrong, you’re wrong. The words “I’m sorry” are a simple and effective way for both of you to move forward without any hard feelings. (Just in case you need them: Here are templates that make saying “I’m Sorry” so much easier.)
3. You’ll Give Positive Feedback That Actually Sounds Sarcastic
There’s nothing wrong with adding a little personality to your interactions at work. In fact, I’d encourage it. But sometimes your choice of words can mean the difference between making someone feel good about the work they’ve done—and making them think you’re messing with them.
You might know that by saying, “Hey chief, big time performance today,” you’re trying to be sincere. But for some of your colleagues, it might not be so obvious.
How to Recover
If your co-worker gives you a funny look or scoffs at your comment, take it as a sign to add a little more transparency to your feedback. Don’t be afraid to say that you really meant what you said.
It might seem like overkill to you, but when your teammates think you’re just joking around, take the initiative and let them know that you were serious about your feedback.
The bad news is that at some point or another, you’ll unknowingly ruffle a co-worker’s feathers. But the good news is that you’re probably reading this because you’re not a monster—and I’m sure you’ll use the tips here (or come up with your own) to help smooth things over.
Even better? Most people have done the same thing, so you’re not alone. And as long as you don’t dig your heels in and insist that you just couldn’t have said that offensive thing, you’ll be able to laugh about it together more quickly than you realize.