Why, oh, why, do we sometimes ‘put our foot in it’?
What on earth causes us to say the wrong thing at the wrong time or to the wrong person? You know, that moment in the conversation where everyone goes silent, and you wish you could take back everything that you’ve just said. I’m sure we’ve all done it. Or, have you ever sent a message and then re-read it and wished you hadn’t? Have you sent a message to the wrong person or replied to a group message with one that you meant to be a personal one to someone else? I know I have! And there are many platforms, where you still can’t edit or delete messages aren’t there, so just like the spoken word, the deed cannot be undone!
When was the last time you put your foot in it? Is it something that still haunts you? Or can you look back and laugh about it now? I know on occasions I have said something that has kept me awake at night thinking about it, completely mortified when the words spilled out, leaving me wondering why on earth I didn’t keep my mouth shut!! But equally, there have been times where I can now laugh at the situation. But I am often left with a question. Why do we say things we wish we hadn’t?
Depending on the situation we find ourselves in, we may be meeting someone for the first time and find ourselves trying to think of conversation starters. We could be wanting to impress a new person, perhaps meeting a new partners parents, or we might be attending an interview. These are all situations where we are focusing on getting things right. And there will be lots going on in our brain which puts us under pressure.
Our minds then become preoccupied as part of our brain will be looking for the right thing to do or say to help us whilst at the same time another part of our brain will be looking out for the wrong things to do or say to protect us from doing or saying just that. However, because these two different parts of the brain are actively looking for the answers, then both sets of thoughts are at the forefront of our minds. The right response and the unintentional, tactless gaffe that causes embarrassment or offence! And although our brain may be advising us not to say it, unfortunately, if we are trying not to think about something, then we are in fact actively thinking about it! Have you ever been asked not to think about a ‘pink elephant’, and however hard you try not to, you still think about it?
So, what is happening here? Well, we might try to suppress that thought, for all the right reasons. But, did you know that in trying to suppress unwanted thoughts we actually use a lot of energy and headspace? This keeps us in a state of stress or keeps our minds pre-occupied.
Then, the state our mind is in, coupled with the space taken up by the unwanted thoughts and the challenge to do the right thing means that we may not have enough space left to process what we are actually about to say.
Occasionally our brains are acting so fast that the words just seem to tumble out of our mouths and we just blurt out a thought we have been trying to suppress. The ‘gaffe’ or ‘faux pas’. No wonder it is so easy to say the wrong thing or to say something we wish we hadn’t.
We have two sets of things we could say or do swimming around in the forefront of our brain or on the tip of our tongue. And we say one of them.
Hopefully, we choose the correct response. More often than not we do. But sometimes, we don’t.
And for some people, if they feel they do this a lot, they may try even harder to suppress the unwanted response, unwittingly allowing it to become more dominant, so more likely to be chosen. And this all happens in a split second. We have no control over it.
But that doesn’t help when the words are out there, it may explain why, but what can you do? What would you do if you had ‘put your foot in it’? Here are some things you could do.
· Just let it go, hopefully unnoticed, and carry on
· Explain that what you said just came out wrongly
· Admit that you have said something you shouldn’t
· Explain what you really meant
· Make a joke of it
· Ask what you can do to make amends
· Learn from it and move on
Only you can decide which response is best for you and each one will be dependent upon the situation you find yourself in. Perhaps the best bet is to try to avoid it happening in the first place!
Take time to consider what you are about to say and think it through. We’ve all heard the saying, ‘Think before you speak.”
It may be hard to do, but many people find it is useful to take a slow deep breath and ponder for a moment before speaking. Calm themselves down and give their brain that all-important headspace! It isn’t rude to take a moment to consider what you will say and often it will cause less embarrassment all round as you can choose a good thought or response.
Here is a great way to help you Follow the THINK acronym to decide what you should or should not say, by just asking yourself about your proposed response:
T- is it True?
H- is it Helpful?
I- is it Inspiring?
N- is it Necessary?
K- is it Kind?
Once words are uttered, they cannot be retrieved. There is no ‘tippex’ for the spoken word! But words and actions can be forgiven, so if you do say something that accidentally offends someone just remember:
You aren’t the only one, everyone says things they wish they hadn’t.
You didn’t mean it the way it came out or in the way in which it was taken, and you certainly didn’t mean to embarrass or offend anyone.
Apologise and try to make amends if you can.
And then, having learned from it forget it and move on. Don’t lie awake feeling guilty about it. That won’t help. We cannot undo what we have said or done, but we can change how we feel about it. Be aware of it, learn from it if you can, but forgive yourself and move on.
You may even laugh about it when you look back in years to come. That is if you even remember it!