You can feel it happening…words escape from your mouth that you know will deeply offend, anger or hurt the person in front of you. You can’t stop the flow. It just pours out while you watch their face change, as they’re hit by your inappropriate comments. In slow motion, you hear your brain cry “No, don’t say it, don’t say it!” but your mouth continues to betray you. Where is the delete button when you need it? Nowhere to be found.
An angry boss, an upset friend or a horrified stranger. You can’t take it back. The negative consequence is yours to own. It’s easy to justify your words: he provoked me, she started it with her comments, it’s about time someone said something, he deserved it. On and on, our egos will do their best to tell us it wasn’t our fault.
The truth says otherwise. When our emotions get in the way, we can easily sabotage any desire for a peaceful existence. Stress, tiredness, fear and frustration can temporarily turn the best of us into self-centered, irrational and unkind people.
Take steps towards repairing the damage
Start by immediately accepting you’ve said the wrong thing at the wrong time, to the wrong person. Apologize right away. A clear, unvarnished, straightforward, no excuses apology is due. Tell them that you can’t believe you just said that and are sincerely sorry. Acknowledge you were wrong to express your opinion the way you did and regret the hurt/anger/poor impression you’ve caused. “I wish I had been more thoughtful” or “I spoke without thinking,” can start your apology on the right note.
Don’t be surprised if the other person doesn’t instantly accept your apology. They may retaliate by expressing an opinion of you that isn’t complimentary. Avoid launching into a full-fledged argument and don’t try to rationalize why you said what you did. Simply say, “I’m sorry, I really am.” When you apologize, you are taking responsibility for your actions and your part in a situation, not agreeing that the entire conflict was your fault. If you truly feel there is an issue to resolve, delay further discussion until the dust settles a bit.
Owning our actions
Too often we blame others for our actions, as if somehow they control what we say or do. Not so. It’s easy to find excuses; it’s harder to own up and admit it was our action that was inappropriate. Yes, there are people out there who can push our buttons and provoke us. We may not like what someone else is saying, but that doesn’t justify compounding the problem. We don’t have control over how other people act, but we can control how we react. It is our choice.
Learn from these instances and train your brain to pause, think about what you’re about to say, decide if it’s appropriate and then make the right choice. Here’s a good rule to follow: if you’re not sure what you are about to say might offend someone, don’t say it. Remember: engage your brain before moving your mouth.