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Blog Insight & Commentary

The Modern Meaning of Snafu

Make this one a Situation Normal, All Fixed Up

Abbey Slattery

woman slipping on a banana peel

Abbey Slattery is a writer, editor, and pop culture aficionado. She has contributed to newspapers, magazines and websites, but is most prolific on Twitter.

A misunderstanding, a mistake, a blunder, a gum up—they’ll are in the snafu family. Snafus can be something small, like forgetting to include a document in an email, or they can be more major, like forgetting about an appointment with a client. Ultimately, however, snafus are usually recoverable.

What is the meaning of snafu?

Even though snafu is commonly used to describe a workplace kerfuffle, it’s original meaning and origin is ironically NSFW (not safe for work).

The term dates back to World War II when it was commonly used by soldiers to describe the general chaos of war and the incompetence of their superiors. The word is actually an acronym that means Situation Normal, All F----d Up. Obviously, it was a bit sarcastic.

What makes a snaftu?

Snafu is kind of a funny word, bu when you’re the one making it, it definitely feels the opposite of humorous. But workplace mistakes are pretty unavoidable because to be human is to err.

Typically, snafus are caused by a few main factors, like lack of preparedness, impatience, and ineptitude—but, of course, some snafus are total accidents, like knocking over someone’s coffee or going in for hug that was meant to be high-five. At the core of a lot of these factors, you’ll often find simple human error and a lack of communication.

An example of a snafu: Your boss wants to review a few documents before a big meeting with clients at the end of the week. She asks you to send it along so you plan to do it first thing in the morning. Later that night, you get an email from your boss asking why you haven’t sent the documents yet. You can’t send it now, because it’s on your computer at work, so you lie awake, reeling with anxiety until you can finally make it into work the next morning. A classic miscommunication.

Another example: You’re writing a story about a hot button issue that people on both sides feel strongly divided on, and you’re on a tight timeline. You accidentally schedule interviews for the bosses of two opposing interest groups on the same day, at the same time. A mix of impatience and ineptitude, caused by underlying anxiety about meeting turnaround times.

While the severity of a snafu varies, you’re still probably faced with dread at returning to work and facing people the next day. While there’s no way to reverse a mistake, there are certainly ways to lessen your anxiety and embarrassment.

Read more: 8 Interpersonal Skills to Get You Ahead of Your Peers

4 steps to bounce back from a snafu

Remember that everyone makes mistakes. Your coworkers, your boss, that one friend who seems like they have their life 100 percent together—everyone. If you’re in the midst of dealing with a snafu, big or small, it can seem insurmountable.

1. Know that it’s okay to feel bad, but don’t linger on that feeling

Processing your emotions is important! If you made a mistake or were involved in a snafu, it’s totally okay to feel bad or feel stressed, but don’t let that feeling linger for too long. Mistakes happen, you’re human. This too shall pass.

Ideally, after a few minutes (or maybe hours, depending on the mistake) those feelings should start to dissipate. If they don’t, then shift your attention by doing something relaxing, like going for a quick walk or jog, journaling, or talking it out with someone close to you. Once you’ve taken a step back, you might realize that the problem isn’t as big as you once felt.

There is a solution to everything.

Keep it all in perspective. There are probably worse things that could’ve happened, and odds are, you’re stressing about it far more than those around you.

2. Take responsibility

When it comes to apologizing, the best thing to do is to keep it brief and don’t make excuses.

A quick and simple, I’m sorry, and it won’t happen in the future or, I see the problem and I’m in the process of finding a solution, is probably all that’s needed.

It’s likely that no one else will be giving it as much thought as you—people tend to be worrying about their own problems.

Read more: The Qualities That Make a Good Leader...and Those That Don't

3. Find a solution, then plan ahead

If your snafu can be fixed (most can), then make a plan to solve the problem. If you can’t totally make a comeback, make a plan to mitigate the issue and move on. The way you handle a problem or bounce back from a mistake can say a lot more about you than the reason why you made the mistake in the first place.

Sometimes the best way to avoid a snafu in the future is by learning from one.

4. Communicate the solution

Once you’ve made a plan, notify those affected and give them a status update. Offer an apology for any inconvenience or delay, and thank your stakeholders for their patience.

Back to situation normal.

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