Women often believe they can not afford to make even one mistake at work.

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well (Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)

I do not know any CEO who has not fallen down the rabbit-hole more than once in their career. Not even the great leaders of our time have never messed up, screwed up, made mistakes or perhaps did not pay attention to as much detail as they should have. This has happened to many and it will happen to you. You will fall down the rabbit-hole. The key will be how you handle the situation, and how to you get yourself back out.

I fell down the rabbit-hole last week, which is why I thought the timing of this blog was perfect. If you are a perfectionist, if you are great at your job, if you are someone trying to climb the career ladder or if you are someone who just wants to do your job then falling down a rabbit-hole is hard to take.

If you are a woman, falling down the rabbit-hole is even worse. Men often rejoice when a woman falls down the rabbit-hole. They often believe it is a matter of fait; it justifies the fact that she should not be in her position in the first place. Why do they do this? Mostly because men are just happy it was not them that fell down the rabbit-hole.

People make mistakes and fall down during the course of their careers. When this happens others will just watch and silently say, “I am glad it is not me”. It is human nature, when something happens, people like to watch. It is like when there is an automobile accident on the road and people slow down to watch and look. The difference is with automobile accidents people do not rejoice in others fait. In the workplace they often rejoice, and men will always rejoice at a women’s fall.

It is mostly those men who enjoy power and status, who do the most rejoicing. They love to exploit a situation. They love to make a ‘slip up’ into a win/lose situation for themselves, a situation in which they can win and you will most certainly lose.

This kind person, the one who likes to exploit situations, can come from anywhere.  They can come from any position or department. They may be your boss, your colleague or even a customer.  The one thing you can be sure is they will use the situation to their advantage. This is the nature of competition in the workplace.

How do you handle such a situation?  The first thing you need to remember is that the exploiter has also ‘slipped up’ in his career. Most of the time this is why they rejoice at your error. When they begin to enjoy the party, you must face them head on. Do not back away from them or avoid them. Tell them how you will correct the situation. Do not let them see that you are overly bothered by the mishap. Men often expect an overreaction from a women.  They expect emotion. By not showing this you can neutralize the situation.  Allow them observe how you fix the situation not how your react to it.

In any kind of fall down the rabbit-hole, it is also critical to keep everything in perspective. Unless your mistake is as big as that of Jérôme Kerviel’s (the French broker who lost billions) there is no reason not to keep things in perspective.  Remember the big picture. Look at the situation in comparison to the contribution you make everyday and the contribution you have made thus far in your career. Strong people tend to be the hardest on themselves. If your own reaction blows the situation out of perspective then there will be a natural reaction for others to do the same. Remember, strong people like athletes deal with win / lose situations all the time. They make mistakes, fall down, and come back to win. How many great skiers, gymnasts and other athletes have had terrible stumbles only to come back and triumph. How come? They know how to keep a fall in perspective.

Last, in any situation where you feel like you have fallen down the rabbit-hole, it is important to focus on positive active listening. A fall down the rabbit-hole in the work environment is full of negative communication. If you actively listen to this communication with a negative or defensive attitude, it will make it worse. Positive active listening means you hear and recognize the positive feedback in every message. When there is corrective feedback you must listen to it in a positive way. This will help you hear the message and understand what the expectations are. You can then better direct your energies and improve the situation.

When we fall down the rabbit-hole in work or make an error, we often shut off our listening capabilities. We often go into a negative listing mode just out of defensive. Stay in a positive listening mode and you will be able to climb out of the rabbit-hole.

When you finally do climb out of the rabbit-hole, you will most likely have a few bruises. What is important is that you climb back out. When you do your bruises will heal and you will be stronger. If you do not climb back out you will never get to see what happens next.