If you've ever been reprimanded at work -- either a written warning or a verbal dressing down -- what did you do?
This may not be pleasant to think about because perhaps you were stunned by the rebuke and didn't respond at all. Or, perhaps you got mad or cried or did a quick retreat to your desk afterwards.
The problem with a warning is that you often feel unprepared for it and so react from your gut when it happens. This isn't a good idea because it often means you react poorly or inappropriately, further adding to your problem.
It's not unusual if you don't really have anything to say when you receive a warning. If that happens, don't worry about it. It's OK to get your thoughts together and address it later through another discussion or email.
Here are some things to think about:
1. Ask questions. If you were warned about being "uncooperative" or "having a bad attitude," ask the boss if he or she can give you a specific example. This gives you a better idea of how this problem occurred. Make sure you're not combative: "Can you be more specific so I make sure I fully understand the issue?"
2. A rebuttal. If you believe that you've unfairly reprimanded for something, then it's OK to speak up. But be careful -- you can't really say "I don't have a bad attitude," when your boss believes that you do. However, if you're warned for being late on projects, you can provide proof from emails that you did turn your work in on time. (It may turn out that the boss has the wrong culprit -- it's your colleague who is late, not you.)
3. Own it. It can be difficult admitting that you screwed up, but owning up to it will be seen as a good first step.
4. Make a plan. Once you realize that you need to make improvements, ask for input from the boss or human resources. If you're reprimanded because you're always late, then that's something you need to figure out on your own. Can you set more than one alarm? Can you take a different route to work that will be faster? Can you have someone else take your son to school so you won't be late?
5. Follow up. Managers don't like to fire people. It's unpleasant and it's a hassle. They have to go through a lot of paperwork and then they have to find someone new and train that person. So, use that to your advantage. Check in with the boss and tell him how you're working to improve. Get his input so you can make adjustments as necessary to meet expectations. If the boss sees you making an effort, that will be a plus in your favor.
6. Dust off the resume. In some companies, once the "paper trail" of reprimands begins, it means that the boss has already made her mind up to fire you and she's just jumping through the hoops to satisfy HR. That's why it's always a good idea when you get a warning in writing to start looking at what else is available in the job market. That way, if you do get fired, you've gotten a jump on your job search.