Recovering Your Reputation

Lose Your Label and Regain Your Standing

Recovering Your Reputation - Lose Your Label and Regain Your Standing

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Emerge stronger from the pain of a damaged reputation.

None of us is perfect. Making mistakes or getting things wrong is just part of life, and part of the learning process. Sometimes, though, depending on how often or how seriously you make mistakes, you might find that your reputation gets tarnished, or that you get labeled as being "incompetent," "untrustworthy," "difficult," "foolish," or worse.

The mistakes you make are rarely severe enough to cost you your job, but they can easily cost you your colleagues' respect. However, whether you've made an error of judgment, behaved badly, failed to keep a promise, or just been the victim of the rumor mills, the good news is that it's often possible to redeem yourself, and to recover your reputation. This article will help you to do that.

Reputation Is a Fragile Asset

As William Shakespeare wrote in Othello, "Good name in man and woman… is the immediate jewel of their souls. Who steals my purse steals trash… But he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed."

A good reputation is certainly worth protecting. Research shows that it is vital for success in your career, and that it can also increase your self-esteem and sense of belonging. But if you make one serious slip-up or bad decision, your reputation could be in tatters, and you could miss out on promotion or new responsibilities and opportunities at work.

Your reputation is built partly on your own behavior and traits, and partly on how other people choose to see you. So you can only influence it, not control it, and this makes it a fragile asset. It's also at risk from factors beyond your control, such as an unfounded rumor that spreads widely, or a malicious act such as identity theft.

How to Rebuild Your Reputation

While your reputation can be damaged almost overnight, it can take a long time to be rebuilt. You will need resilience and patience to do so. You may be "rehabilitated" more quickly if your mistake was regarded as a "one-off," rather than as part of a pattern of negative behavior or repeated poor choices.

There's no "one-size-fits-all" approach to repairing your reputation, but one of the key factors is being able to demonstrate to your manager, your colleagues, and your customers that you deserve to have your good name restored.

Here are some steps to follow that will help you to rebuild your reputation:

Step 1: Uncover the Truth

"Mud sticks," as the saying goes, so your first step in rebuilding your good reputation is to lose the bad one.

Resist the temptation to display knee-jerk, defensive reactions or to blame someone else. Instead, begin by assessing your situation calmly and objectively.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What did, or didn't, you do?
  • Were you in the wrong, or have you been unfairly blamed?
  • Why did people react the way they did?

You can't form a recovery plan without establishing the cause of the problem, so identify the areas that you need to focus on. For example, if you've been labeled as angry, arrogant or lazy, you need to identify the specific behaviors that other people see as negative.

Next, discuss the situation frankly with your manager and fellow team members. It might be painful, but their feedback can show you where to focus your efforts. It also demonstrates to them that you're making a real effort to put things right.

Acknowledge your mistakes, apologize and explain honestly what happened. Don't try to cover up or stretch the truth.


When you admit to making serious mistakes, prepare yourself for the possible consequences. For example, you may receive a Formal Warning letter or be asked to sign up to a Performance Agreement. These may not be pleasant, but they're often a necessary part of rebuilding your reputation and regaining people's trust.

However, if the way you are viewed or treated is unfair, be assertive and speak up. Talk to someone in your HR department, as he or she can help you to get acknowledgment and an apology from anyone who has unfairly damaged your standing. He can also help you to resolve any misunderstandings with other people who have become involved in the situation.


Some people attempt to drag others down through gossip, discrimination or manipulation. These are all forms of bullying, and could be an expression of the "Dark Triad" of personality traits. If you believe that you are a victim of such behaviors, you should report it to your manager and HR department.

Step 2: Start Rebuilding

No matter who was responsible for the situation that cost you your reputation, you'll want to limit the damage as soon as possible. You could have a long road ahead, so there's no time to lose. Equally, be patient and accept that people may take a while to see you in a different light.

To begin, form an action plan and map out your vision of your "future self." Write down how you want to be perceived, and set goals to achieve it. For example, "Work with a mentor to develop my decision making, to prevent me from being seen as incompetent." Sharing your plan with colleagues can win you their support.

You need to live the changes that you want to make, and make them visible. You can't just pay them lip service. People will need to be convinced that you've changed your ways if they are to form a new belief about you. But remember to stay true to yourself and to live by your values as you rebuild your reputation. This can be hard, but stay positive and keep going!


You'll need to believe in yourself before anyone else will believe in you! So take time to challenge any negative thoughts you might have about your ability to rebuild your reputation.

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Step 3: Make It Last

If you are trying to make amends for previous negative behaviors or bad habits, it's important that you don't lapse back into your old ways. You need to commit to making deep and lasting changes. But you don't have to do it alone – ask a trusted friend or colleague to be your "buddy" and to hold you accountable for your behavior. And stay away from anyone who might tempt you back into those bad habits.

Be aware that some people will struggle to accept that you're genuinely trying to make amends, no matter what you do. If the worst comes to the worst, and you find that you cannot repair your reputation within your organization, you may have to consider moving on and starting somewhere new.

Key Points

A good reputation helps you to succeed in your career and to feel good about yourself. But it is fragile, and restoring it after you've made a serious mistake or been labeled negatively can take time, hard work, and patience.

To restore your good reputation, you need to confront and deal with the negativity that you have become associated with. You can then reverse your bad behaviors, work toward becoming your "future self," and be authentic.

Once your standing is restored, you'll have to maintain the changes that you've made. If in an extreme case, you are unable to recover your reputation within your organization, you may need to leave and start somewhere new.

Apply This to Your Life

If a co-worker, friend or family member has suffered a loss of reputation, be aware that she may have a real weakness that needs addressing, but resist the temptation to judge. Keep the lines of communication open, and work on building honesty, understanding and trust between you.