I'm having dinner with a dear, dear friend. I'll call her Jean, which isn't her name. We see each other fairly regularly, but we dine alone together far less often than either of us would like. So we're catching up, and I tell her about some of my adventures with Point Lookout — articles I liked, articles I struggled with, reader response, that kind of thing.
Jean suggests a topic for an article: "If Only I Had Known." I hear the words, and I am intrigued. I remember times I regretted things I said — things that, if only I had known one more little fact, I would have said differently or not at all. I think about what the article would say, if I were to write it, and it goes something like this.
- Avoiding the wreck is best
- Accusations, absolute assertions, or denials lead to problems. Assuming ignorance, inexperience, or any deficit at all on the part of others is also dangerous.
- Unless you really know something, play it safe. Find ways to hedge your statements, or express yourself in the form of a question. Use homespun humility, if it's Almost everyone who
heard your remark
- Recognize that everyone does it
- This error is very common. It happens when the pace of conversation is rapid, and when we're so eager to contribute that we forget that we don't know everything about anything.
- Remember that almost all the people who heard your remark share your sense of embarrassment, not only about your remark, but also about similar remembered errors of their own.
- At the appropriate time, ask for a chance to apologize
- Apologizing immediately is better than not at all, but when you apologize publicly and immediately, you risk being seen as more concerned about your own image than about the hurt or discomfort you see around you. See "Demanding Forgiveness," Point Lookout for June 18, 2003, for more.
- Seek a private opportunity to apologize later. If you realize the problem in the moment — and sometimes we don't — the safest immediate action is a sheepish "Sorry," followed by adoption of a very low profile.
- Forgive yourself when it happens
- Punishing yourself for making this kind of mistake makes the experience even more painful than it already is. That pain can drain you of the energy you need if you want to work on avoiding the error in the future.
- Acknowledge to yourself that you said what you said, accept that you will probably do it again, and realize that you can work on making that kind of mistake even more rarely than you do now.
So I tell Jean about what I'm thinking. She listens — she's very good at listening. And she says, "Interesting, but that's not what I had in mind." She tells me what she actually had in mind. I think, 'If only I had known.' For what Jean had in mind, come back next time. Next in this series Top Next Issue
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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- Where do the days go? How can it be that we spend eight, ten, or twelve hours at work each day and get
so little done? To find more time, focus on strategy.
- How to Ruin Meetings
- Much has been written about how to conduct meetings effectively. Here are some reliable techniques for
doing something else altogether.
- Why Sidebars Happen
- Sidebar conversations between meeting participants, conducted while someone else has the floor, are
a distracting form of disorder that can waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. Why do sidebars happen?
- The Goal Is Not the Path
- Sometimes, when reaching a goal is more difficult than we thought at first, instead of searching for
another way to get there, we adjust the goal. There are alternatives.
- Defect Streams and Their Sources
- Regarding defects as elements of a stream provides a perspective that aids in identifying causes other
than negligence. Examples of root causes are unfunded mandates, misallocation of the cost of procedure
competence, and frequent changes in procedures.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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