We’ve all done it; said something we shouldn’t have: thoughtless, unkind words you wish you could take back. The moment the words slip through your lips you want to unsay them, but unfortunately, it’s too late. The damage is done.
It happened to me as we were preparing for my father’s auction. The heat index was over 100. I was cleaning off the top shelf of a filthy closet. Every hair on my head and pore on my body was dripping with sweat. It was time for a break.
I climbed off the ladder, walked into the kitchen and the first thing I saw was sister’s boyfriend sitting comfortably at the table checking his phone. He looked cool and clean.
I couldn’t help myself, “If you’re looking for something to do, the guys in the garage could use help. If you’re not, then find another place to sit. There’s nothing worse when you’re working your butt off than watching someone who isn’t.”
His eyes widened in surprise, he mumbled something like, “I was just heading out there,” and he was gone.
I felt awful. The heat was no excuse for my poor behavior; I’d attacked Mark with no context whatsoever and it was clear that I’d hurt him. I turned around and saw my sister looking at me. Now I felt even worse! To her credit, Terri didn’t say anything. We went back to work and finished the closet. As we were finishing up, she said, “Are you going to apologize to him?” I promised I would.
I hunted up Mark, anxious for the opportunity to apologize. “I’m an imbecile. I’m sorry I jumped all over you. You didn’t deserve that.”
To Mark’s credit, he accepted the apology with a “No problem”, but I could tell what I’d said still smarted. By the end of the day and about 20 apologies later, we were buddies again.
Realizing I had hurt someone with unnecessary, thoughtless words and making the effort to sincerely apologize saved a friendship and certainly made both Mark and I feel better. With the air cleared, we focused on the task at hand and left the hurt behind.
Business owners, supervisors, spouses – we’ve all had the Open mouth, insert foot experience. Next time it happens to you, remember these ways to recover.
- Honesty’s the best policy. There’s no better way to set the record straight than with a sincere explanation and apology.
- Get third party validation. This works especially well when circumstances prohibit you from delivering the apology on your own. Reaching out to a third party will ease some of the awkwardness and show you’re willing to take the extra step toward correcting the situation
- Keep calm and move on. Sometimes an apology just won’t cut it and no explanation will change that. Instead of spending time worrying about what happened, focus on learning from your mistake and being and doing the best you can. In time your stellar accomplishments will overshadow your slip-up.
Note to self: Next time Linda, use your head before you use your mouth.
Have you ever had an “Open mount, insert foot” experience?