Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 6, Issue 22;   May 31, 2006: If Only I Had Known: I

If Only I Had Known: I

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Have you ever regretted saying something that you wouldn't have said if only you had known just one more little fact? Yeah, me too. We all have. Here are some tips for dealing with this sticky situation.

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.

An appealing plate of pasta (not what I ate that evening)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
shares your
embarrassment
sincere.
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 Go to top Top  Next issue: If Only I Had Known: II  Next Issue

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Coping effectively with feelings of embarrassment, shame, or guilt is the path to recovering a sense of balance that's the foundation of clear thinking. And thinking clearly at work is important if you want to avoid feeling embarrassment, shame, or guilt. Available here and by RSS on December 26.

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