Photo of Gloria Cotton

Have you ever had something come out of your mouth and then you immediately regretted it? Of course you have. Everyone has, including me.

Even when our intentions are good, sometimes our filter disappears and we accidentally hurt people or make them unintentionally uncomfortable with our words. In this blog, I want to share a story with you about a time I misspoke and discuss what I did so my relationship and mutual trust didn’t suffer and, in fact, was made stronger.

I Can’t Believe I Just Said That

I was on a call with a group of friends, and we were chatting about someone I like working with. We were all laughing and I said something I say quite often to people that lets them know I like working with them. All the people on the call have heard me use the phrase before and they’ve all laughed with me with humor and understanding. The problem was this time, the phrase that was innocent and uniting before, included words that could have related to a personal tragedy in one of my friend’s lives. I heard the words coming out of my mouth and I cringed. I couldn’t believe that I had said that. I thought, “Oh my goodness, Gloria. Given what’s happened in your friend’s life, how could you say that?!”

I apologized to my friend. With a soft chuckle, she said it was all right. And, though I believed her, it didn’t feel all right. Because we had a well-established a relationship filled with trust and respect, she understood. That it wasn’t intentional. That I hadn’t had a temporary lapse of judgment nor was it intentional. I just wasn’t thinking. And while she was fine, I felt as if I’d opened my mouth and inserted both feet.

We’ve spoken several times since then. Everything is fine and I believe I was more upset than she was. Still, I felt badly because I’d never want to hurt my friend and it scared me to think that I might have. Not only was I uncomfortable, but I had to trust that when she said it was OK, it  really was OK. That WE—both our professional and personal relationships—were and are OK. I had to resist the urge to apologize repeatedly each time we talked. I finally realized I had to work it through with myself, learn and forgive myself so I wouldn’t be distracted each time we talked – which might have put a damper on our relationship and the fun we have as we do wonderful work together. I wasn’t willing to let that happen. Following are the things I thought about, worked through and, made peace with.

Accountability Is Key

When you’re talking with people, even when you’re comfortable with each other, be sure to be consciously aware of your actions—what you’re doing and saying.

Even what you’re thinking, as that can influence your tone, pace and body language.

When you’re building a new relationship, make sure to work to build understanding so that you each know the others’ intention. Let them know you respect them and never mean to invalidate their feelings or their experiences. And discuss and agree upon ways you’ll each let the other know if you are doing and saying anything that can erode trust or build barriers between you. That way, when mistakes happen—and they will—you can hold yourself accountable, look that person in the eye, apologize, feel certain that your apology has been heard, felt and accepted, and that you can move on together with respect in tact or even made stronger. But you do have to confront the issue – you cannot ignore the person, or pretend it didn’t happen.

I said Something I Shouldn’t Have… Now What?

If you feel you may have said something that could hurt someone’s feelings, but you aren’t sure, ask them.  Ask them if your relationship is solid and safe, and if it isn’t, what you both can do to make it better.

Forgive Yourself…

Being human is not an excuse for hurting people, but being human means we will from time to time make mistakes. You do not have to continuously apologize. Learn when to let it go and trust the other person to be truthful with you. When you have done everything you can and the relationship is restored, learn from what’s happened, forgive yourself and move on.

…And Do Better Next Time

Every time you apologize for something, make a note to never do that thing again. Don’t be shy about asking other people for feedback when it’s appropriate so that you can continue to grow and form strong relationships. And remember to give people about the things they’re doing that helps build trust and respect without their asking for it. And ask them for feedback about what you’re doing routinely. Be trustworthy—that is worthy of the trust of others. Build relationships of mutual trust and respect so that both parties can share easy-to-listen-to and hard-to-listen-to things with compassion and clarity. That way, even if one of you does misspeak, the relationship, comfort in working with each other nor performance will suffer. Celebrate the learning and put it into your EQ Toolbox.