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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 27: Brainstorming and Speedstorming: II
- Recent research into the effectiveness of brainstorming has raised some questions. Motivated to examine alternatives, I ran into speedstorming. Here's Part II of an exploration of the properties of speedstorming. Available here and by RSS on February 27.
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