It’s only human to say the wrong thing now and then. Here, our experts share easy ways to smooth ruffled feathers and start fresh when you put your foot in your mouth.
Start with you.
When you say something you wish you hadn’t, first check in with yourself, says therapist Alison McKleroy, author of Essential Strategies for Social Anxiety (Buy from Amazon, $13), and the founder of Center for Spark, a personal growth company. “Are you ‘mindreading,’ telling yourself that the other person hates you for saying X?” We often blame ourselves for something they may have taken in stride. “Making a mistake means you’re human — it’s so important to bring self-compassion to the situation.”
Focus on the positive.
Seeing the positive side of saying the “wrong thing” will help you rebound from communication misfires, says McKleroy. “Your regret says that you care how you’re received in the world. There’s often something beautiful about negative emotions because they show us what we value. Tell yourself, ‘When I said X, I felt bad because I value my friend.’” This lets you accept your feelings so you can then focus on the other person.
See the ‘light’ side.
We’ve all had those cringe-inducing moments when someone tells us something like they’re getting a root canal and we reply, “Have fun!” There’s so much on our minds these days, it’s hard to focus, notes McKleroy. “Don’t be afraid to be playful by saying, ‘Oops! I just realized I missed what you said — can you repeat that?’” When we’re honest, we’re basking in our humanity, and that makes people lower their guard and really start communicating.
Speak from the heart.
If you’re afraid you hurt someone’s feelings, a simple apology will help you both move forward, says body language and communication expert Patti Wood, M.A., author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language & Charisma (Buy on Amazon, $15). She advises keeping it short and sweet: “Simply say, ‘I am sorry, I messed up.’ And if there’s a backstory, you might add, ‘There’s a reason it happened, and I’d like to talk to you about it at some point, but right now the important thing is our relationship and that you know I’m sorry,’” This lets them feel seen and respected.
“Over the pandemic, I’ve seen three phases of emotions,” says Marcia Reynolds, psychologist and author of Outsmart Your Brain: How to Master Your Mind When Emotions Take the Wheel (Buy on Amazon, $13). “At first, we felt fear, then we were drained, and finally, there’s been a shift toward irritability — and it’s coming out in our interactions.” If you were short with someone, you could say, “I know I was curt, and it’s not an excuse, but I feel like I have no energy by the end of the day.” Acknowledging it makes it easier for them to understand where you’re coming from.
Make a pact.
More than ever, we’re finding ourselves interacting with folks who may hold different views than ours, says Wood, who urges smoothing feathers before they’re ruffled. “Let them know, ‘We might say something that hurts each other, so can we make a rule to get to the other side of it by letting each other know if we’re going too far?’ The best thing we can do is let people
know that we respect them and how they feel.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.