Once every couple of weeks or so, I get a work email or text that starts with: “Hi Pilots”.

This is because, for reasons best known to itself, the predictive text algorithm on a lot of mobile phones turns “Pilita” into “Pilots”.

Senders normally realise what has happened and quickly write again to say something like: “Sorry! Predictive text!”

Last week though, a man who emailed me from his iPad took another tack. Ignoring the fact that he had just written to Pilots, he wrote another, correctly addressed, email as if the first had never been sent.

This reminded me that there are two sorts of people in the world. Those who know how to recover from a faux pas at work and those who do not.

The strategy of pretending nothing has happened works best when the slip-up is, like the Pilots situation, deeply trivial. I deployed it myself the other day while wearing a pair of shoes that make an embarrassing squeak at unpredictable moments.

As I was chatting to a colleague in a quiet part of the office, I shifted weight from one foot to the other and one shoe emitted a brief but mortifying noise. I ignored it. So did my colleague and, as far as I can tell, life has proceeded without further incident.

The brazen-faced tactic works best if you are a boss and therefore relatively untouchable. But blundering bosses often need to make a swift apology as well.

Late last year, a live microphone in the New Zealand parliament caught the then prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, muttering that a rival politician who had been peppering her with questions was an “arrogant prick”.

Ardern quickly texted the man to apologise, and later agreed to sign a copy of the Hansard record of the exchange, raising NZ$100,000 in a prostate cancer charity auction. Wise moves.

The apology is also mandatory if you are ever caught out as a colleague was recently when he ran into someone who had been at the same work event that he had attended a few nights earlier.

“So sorry I didn’t have time to talk to you the other night,” said my colleague. “It was unbelievably busy.”

“Oh,” said the other person, looking both puzzled and put out. “But you did. For quite a while.”

My colleague did the only sensible thing one can do at such a juncture. He apologised again, furiously, but suspects the damage is irreparable.

He is probably right, which is unfair considering he would be one of the last people to commit the two most basic office faux pas: asking a woman when her baby is due (without knowing if she is pregnant) and thanking team colleagues by name in a speech (someone is invariably left out).

Another common but harmless work mis-step arises from language problems, like the one an English-speaking friend suffered soon after moving to Spain.

At a lunch one day, when the man sitting next to her left some fruit on his plate, she tried to politely ask him in her newly acquired Spanish: “Can I eat your grapes?” Alas, instead of using the Spanish word for grapes, uvas, she said huevos, which literally means “eggs” but is also slang for “balls”. It took some time for the table to recover.

Finally, it is worth remembering that some faux pas are so appalling they call for an entirely different strategy: the outright lie.

A friend who used to work at the BBC discovered this after he emailed a colleague about an annoying man in a radio studio.

“That tit is really getting on my nerves. Can we get him sacked?” he wrote, immediately sending it to the tit in question, who looked at my friend and said, “Who?”. 

“I looked at him,” my friend recalled the other day. “And then I did the only thing you can do: pointed at the studio and said, ‘Nicky Campbell. That tit.’ We got on famously after that.”

Nicky Campbell, for non-British readers, is a veteran broadcaster. He survived the incident, as did my friend, which goes to show the best way of getting over a work gaffe may not be the most honourable. It just needs to be dependable.

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