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What To Do When You Make a Mistake

It’s never fun to commit a faux-pas or flub, but it is part of being human. Remember that none of us is perfect and that we all make mistakes, so it’s good to be prepared to recover and learn from them when they inevitably occur. So here are a few quick tips to help you recover from those times when you’ve just put your foot in your mouth.

By
Adam Lowe,
October 29, 2007

It’s never fun to commit a faux-pas or flub, but it is part of being human. Remember that none of us is perfect and that we all make mistakes, so it’s good to be prepared to recover and learn from them when they inevitably occur. So here are a few quick and dirty tips to help you recover from those times when you’ve just put your foot in your mouth.

  • Own up to it.  You may often make it worse by trying to dance around your mistake or just leaving it sitting there. Apologize if something came out that was insensitive or unintentionally cruel.

  • Use some humor or self deprecation to show what you said wasn’t mean spirited. If, for example, you congratulate someone on being pregnant when it turns out she is not, tell her that you’re blind without your glasses and that you failed biology twenty times.

  • Don’t dwell on it. Once you have apologized and dispersed the comment, don’t dwell on it. If it wasn’t a great thing to say in the first place, let the thought fade out. Of course if it becomes a topic of humor, be a good sport about it.

  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh along with everyone else at your mistake, and if you get a little ribbing, take it in a good-hearted manner.

  • Have a conversation. If it does become a major issue or if you have seriously offended someone, sit down and have a talk with them, as it’s possible there may be other underlying feelings unearthed by your remark.

  • Finally, learn from your mistakes. If you find that you get yourself in trouble by making comments about people’s relationships, or ages, or names, then come up with strategies for doing better in the future. Wait for people to tell you information rather than assuming it, and try asking questions that are more neutral. For example, rather than asking how long a man and woman you meet at a party have been dating (when it turns out they are father and daughter), ask them how they know one another. At worst you’ll get a chuckle and a response, rather than an awkward look.

So here’s hoping your foot and your mouth stay well separated, and thank you for reading these quick and dirty tips for a more polite life.

Send your question and comments to manners@quickanddirtytips.com. The Modern Manners Guy is part of the quick and dirty tips network. Check out the other great shows at QuickAndDirtyTips.com.

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