How To Save Your Job After a Gaffe


Geraldine Ferraro stepped down from her position on Hillary Clinton’s campaign finance committee after her controversial remarks that Barack Obama’s success in the election thus far has been due to the color of his skin.

Last week, Ferraro, a former vice presidential nominee, remarked to The Daily Breeze, of Torrance, Calif., that, “If Obama was a white man; he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”

An unapologetic Ferraro decided to resign after intense political backlash towards both her and the Clinton campaign. However, she has not resigned because she regrets her statements. In e-mail to Clinton, Ferraro wrote, “I am stepping down from your finance committee so I can speak for myself and you can continue to speak for yourself about what’s at stake in this campaign. The Obama campaign is attacking me to hurt you. I won’t let that happen.”

But could an apology have helped her? Only if it was sincere, says Simma Lieberman, a diversity consultant based in Albany, Calif. “If someone makes a comment like that and then says they mean it and refuses to see the point in a discussion about it, they should be lose their job."

Inappropriate comments whether they be racist, sexist, or anything else, can be incredibly hurtful and are always inappropriate, especially in the work place. However, when people find themselves in this situation, they may be able to turn it into a learning experience and keep their jobs at the same time.

Most people are not intentionally malicious and their inappropriate comments, are often a result of naïveté. People don’t realize that the intention of their statement is much different than the implication. “Geraldine Ferraro’s comments actually imply that the voters supporting Obama are idiots and have been taken in by him,” says Lieberman. “The same goes when people make a racial comment about a co-worker or boss. It implies first that someone of a different race is incompetent and incapable of having their job and that they are much more competent to have those responsibilities.”

However a blunder like this isn’t necessarily fatal to one’s career. Penelope Trunk, author of Brazen Careerist, says Ferraro got herself into hot water because she has been a loose canon in the past also. “Normally one comment will not cost you you’re career. What you cannot afford to do is be high and mighty and go around saying that you are right.”

There are a few things that people who have made a verbal slip up at work need to do to make their mistake right. People should first state what the intent of their comment was. Sometimes things come out wrong or are taken out of context and an explanation might clarify that. Next, they should apologize for what they have said to the people who were offended by it. “The faster that you apologize, the faster it goes away,” says Trunk. And finally, if it is still a question, they can ask what is wrong exactly with what they have said and how it could have been phrased better.

Adds Lieberman, “The most important thing is dialogue. If I say something that offends you, you should be able to tell me that you are offended and why. There is not enough discussion in the workplace today and it can be used a chance to educate people.”

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