How to cheer up a friend who made a big mistake?
March 16, 2016 6:16 AM   Subscribe

Someone close to me just made a HUGE mistake at work. How can I cheer them up without minimizing the situation or being preachy?

This person is a very accomplished and capable professional, a perfectionist and incredibly successful in their very competitive field. Their mistake was pretty basic. They had a super important presentation and they overslept. Now they are totally fretting about it and although I am not sure what the outcome will be (they said it was "the worst thing that could happen in their whole life"), I have the feeling things aren't as serious as they see them right now, but I don't want to insult them by trivializing their concern. I also have no idea how things work in their field, so I don't want to attempt to give them my input on how to solve things.

I am looking for jokes, meme type things, stories of successful people who messed up and recovered, etc. Otherwise just general ideas on how to offer emotional support when a friend fucked up.

This person lives in a different state, so online or care package type of things would be ideal.
posted by Tarumba to Human Relations (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You know your friend better than we random strangers on the internet, but...

If I had made a mistake of that caliber, I would take ANY sort of joke/meme/cheer up/story the wrong way. ANYTHING jokey would be minimizing. If you don't know how things work in their field, how do you know that things aren't as serious as they seem right now?

I would just want to hear "that sucks" and "I'm so sorry that happened to you" and "if there's anything I can do to help you feel better".
posted by Lucinda at 6:45 AM on March 16, 2016 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I did something like this once. It was brutal, because I had wrapped up a lot in my work identity and I suddenly felt like I was lost at sea. It really was a bad mistake that called my professional competence into question, so minimizing it or joking about it wasn't appropriate. However what helped is remembering that work is not life. There is a world bigger than work and life goes on.

"I love you no matter what happens to you at work" is the kind of message I'm talking about. Or basically "I love you no matter what". Forgot about work altogether, you don't even need to mention it. Memes with cute animals expressing love. That kind of thing.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:54 AM on March 16, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: If I were in this situation, I can see myself wanting two things:
1. Validation for "this totally sucks and I care about you and I'm sorry."
2. A little pushing back on the "This is the worst possible thing that could ever happen to me." You need to sort of be able to read your friend on this, so it might be hard to do long distance. But one of the most useful exercises a therapist ever walked me through was to basically say, OK, let's say all your worst fears happen here. What would ACTUALLY happen, and how would you deal with that.
So, for example, in this case, perhaps your friend thinks she could be fired, and that's the worst case scenario. Well, talk to her about that a little. Yes, getting fired would be awful and would suck majorly. But, what resources does she have to deal with getting fired if that were the case? It sounds like she probably has a lot of positive professional skills and experience, a network she could draw on, etc. Maybe she has savings? If she doesn't have savings, does she have family or friends she could lean on in a situation where she had to give up her apartment? Etc. Basically walking through all the "worst case scenarios" and saying -- look, yes, this would be bad and is REALLY not what you want. But if even if the worst case DID happen, what are the resources you would have to make it through that bad situation and come out on the other side. This practice definitely helps me calm down and get away from that point of PANIC ALL HELL WILL BREAK LOSE AND I WILL PROBABLY DIE SOON.
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:55 AM on March 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Screwing up at work is the WORST, especially when it's something like oversleeping. You just kick yourself over and over, and there's the very real possibility that you'll get fired, which is a nightmare.

Now, your friend screwed the pooch big time, but there's a non 0% chance that they'll be forgiven, but perhaps put on probation or something. So until your friend knows what's going to happen, panic is the watchword of the day.

Find out what your friend wants. If they want to freak out with you, that's cool. Keep calm and do as rainbowbrite suggests, walk them through what happens if they DO get fired.

If your friend wants guidance, encourage them to get an account here and post their question. We've all been where your friend has been and we have answers. Don't offer to fix their problem unless they ask though.

The good news is that these things rarely sit in limbo for long. If your friend is in real trouble with their job, they'll know it soon enough.

Talking someone off a ledge is delicate work. Sometimes all you need to do is listen to them and pat the on the head.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:15 AM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Starbucks and other retailers have e-cards you can send via email with a cheery message. I sent one to a friend across the country on a terrible work day and it made her day. I think maybe an "I love you no matter what, here is a small treat for you" as mentioned above could really make a difference. I have gotten such good feedback that it's now my go-to.
posted by rubster at 7:17 AM on March 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Skype/phone drink. More than once in the past I have 'gotten a drink' with my bff over the phone, meaning we both get wine, call each other and drink at the same time, talking things over, just like we would if we were together. It doesn't count as 'drinking alone' :) and it's fun.
posted by greta simone at 7:22 AM on March 16, 2016 [8 favorites]

Best answer: The two things I have to beat into my brain when I make mistakes:

1. People who seem competent and confident don't act like their entire CV is worthless because of one mistake. They pull this "well that was regrettable - so moving on" face that is nearly robotic, just totally devoid of emotion.

2. The truly mature, professional thing to do is to maintain perspective and just get back to work. This is the opposite of catastrophizing, wallowing in self hate, endlessly apologizing. Those things are not productive and only increase the damage of the mistake, so the sooner friend moves on the more she is helping herself and her peers.

I have an especially hard time with the not wallowing. If I were your friend I would appreciate a message that first acknowledges my feelings of stress are legit, but then also reminds me of the points above.
posted by skrozidile at 7:33 AM on March 16, 2016 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Even smart people gotta sleep sometime. This is why we're a team; we've got this ...
posted by scruss at 7:46 AM on March 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If a very capable and accomplished perfectionist professional oversleeps once, it is not a huge mistake, it is an accident. This distinction is not trivial.
This realization may help you to be supportive without making light of the situation, or otherwise striking a wrong note.

A good prevention strategy is always good to consider, however, and if discussing that would help your friend, go ahead.
posted by Namlit at 8:48 AM on March 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Also: did this happen this week? Because it's really difficult to get your sleep schedule in order after the Daylight Saving Time shift, and if I were the employer or anyone else affected, I'd consider that a mitigating factor.
posted by asperity at 8:50 AM on March 16, 2016 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Radical candor is a good approach in situations like this.
posted by limeonaire at 6:32 PM on March 16, 2016

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