Yes, we've all done it. Made a comment that we wish we could immediately retract but as one of my favorite sayings goes, "You can't unscramble an egg." Try as you might, it's often difficult to recover from a verbal misstep. Or worse, an entire conversation you wish you could retract!
I was recently contacted by a client who made the mistake of complaining about the "annoying voice" of the keynote speaker at a professional event. Unfortunately, and as luck would have it, he shared his criticism with someone who turned out to be the speaker's husband, also a member of the same association that put on the event. "How was I to know?" he exclaimed, and, "What do I do now?"
Here are a few business etiquette tips on "Zipping Your Lips" and learning from your mistakes:
Don't assume everyone will welcome your opinion. The harsh remark made about the speaker's voice was an unfortunate reality check. Before opening your mouth to offer a questionable opinion, consider the repercussions. Unless you are in a meeting and your feedback is required, discretion is the better part of valor.
Be aware of your stress level. When we are feeling anxious, we often ramble or say something just to fill the gap of silence. Chances are that what you say in those moments will most likely be clumsy and make matters even worse! According to Hal Shorey Ph.D., Associate Professor, Director of Psychology and Business Joint Degree Program and Director of Organizational Development Services for the Institute of Graduate Clinical Psychology at Widener University, Chester, Pennsylvania, "We often regret our disclosures, feel like an idiot -- and then worry even more about what the listener is thinking. We may feel compelled to 'fix' the situation, leading to -- you guessed it -- even more blabbing. It's a cruel downward spiral."
Go easy on the alcohol. "Loose lips sink ships," and never is this adage more true than when you are over-imbibing. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions and may give you a false sense of security to say or do something you wouldn't ordinarily do under different circumstances. Alcohol may also make it easier to comment or share information that you would otherwise not consider divulging with a clear mind. Dr. Shorey states, "You shouldn't feel pressured to seem interesting to others. When people feel a need to 'entertain' in this way, they tell too many personal stories (and thus reveal too much personal information) and divulge too much in the way of their opinions (that may not be politically correct). When drinking, one should keep in mind that other people will also be pulled to tell their own stories...and you should let them. If you learn to ask questions of other people and show interest, they will think that you are the most interesting person at the party...even if you don't talk about yourself at all."
Just be yourself. It's one thing to say something that may unintentionally come across as rude or out of line. Quickly recovering by owning the remark: "I am sorry -- I spoke out of turn", "I regret making that comment", and "Please forgive me" is all that is necessary. If you have gone on and on and now you are left with a mountain of slime all over the other person -- as mentioned earlier, think twice before going back to make things right.
Before you open your mouth next time, ask yourself...
- Is the person interested in what I'm about to say?
- What is my motive?
- Am I speaking because I'm nervous or filling an uncomfortable pause?
- Will my comments make things better or worse?
- How will I feel after I say it?
Bottom line: Don't beat yourself up if this scenario sounds familiar. Just make every effort from this point on not to repeat the mistake again.