If your mouth sometimes runs ahead before your brain has a chance to catch up, like mine does when I’m Bad Tammy, it’s useful to backpedal immediately.
When you’ve said something mean
When anger steals your usual good judgment and composure, and you’ve lashed out by saying something mean, issue a mea culpa promptly and concisely:
- Apologize. Keep it sincere and brief, since dragging it out can actually make matters worse. It’ll show you’re self-aware enough to notice your mistake.
- Acknowledge that it was uncalled for. I call this the “olive branch step.” It’s what is known as a “repair bid,” a gesture requesting their forbearance while you attempt to set something right.
- Explain. Again, keep this brief. Just say what prompted your lapse in judgment — but be sure not to blame them for it. Only you control your own tongue.
When you’ve said something mean your mea culpa might sound something like…
I’m sorry, that was unfair. That was my anger speaking.
- I’m sorry, that was a terrible thing to say, especially since I don’t even mean it. My anger got the best of me.
- I’m sorry. That was just plain mean of me. I let my anger control my tongue.
When you’ve put your foot in your mouth
When you’ve said something without thinking (like the time I cursed at a mediation client) and it comes out shocking, ungraceful, or socially awkward, the same approach outlined above works well.
I also find humor very useful for mitigating the impact of my mindlessness.
Self-deprecating humor demonstrates your self-awareness and helps rebalance the social scales (it may help you manage anger better, too).
When you’ve put your foot in your mouth your mea culpa might sound something like…
- Boy, that sounded a lot better in my head than when it came out of my mouth. Let me try to put it the way I really intended…
- Emily Post is rolling over in her grave right now. As she should be. Let me see if I can put two words together a bit better.
- Yikes! If I were standing outside myself I’d slap me right now.
- Gee whiz — and I talk with people for a living! Let me try that again.
- A good fishing rod would be helpful right now! (Make the motion and sound of reeling in a fish.) What I was really trying to say was…