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:
- Selling Uphill: Before and After
- Whether you're a CEO appealing to your Board of Directors, your stockholders or regulators, or a project
champion appealing to a senior manager, you have to "sell uphill" from time to time. Persuading
decision-makers who have some kind of power over us is a challenging task. How can we prepare the way
for success now and in the future?
- The Solving Lamp Is Lit
- We waste a lot of time finding solutions before we understand the problem. And sometimes, we start solving
before everyone is even aware of the problem. Here's how to prevent premature solution.
- Asking Brilliant Questions
- Your team is fortunate if you have even one teammate who regularly asks the questions that immediately
halt discussions and save months of wasted effort. But even if you don't have someone like that, everyone
can learn how to generate brilliant questions more often. Here's how.
- An Emergency Toolkit
- You've just had some bad news at work, and you're angry or really upset. Maybe you feel like the target
of a vicious insult or the victim of a serious injustice. You have work to do, and you want to respond,
but you must first regain your composure. What can you do to calm down and start feeling better?
- Symbolic Self-Completion and Projects
- The theory of symbolic self-completion holds that to define themselves, humans sometimes assert indicators
of achievement that either they do not have, or that do not mean what they seem to mean. This behavior
has consequences for managing project-oriented organizations.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.