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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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Games for Meetings: II
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized
games. Here's Part II of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
- Asking Brilliant Questions
- Your team is fortunate if you have even one teammate who regularly asks the questions that immediately
halt discussions and save months of wasted effort. But even if you don't have someone like that, everyone
can learn how to generate brilliant questions more often. Here's how.
- Ten Reasons Why You Don't Always Get What You Measure: II
- Although many believe that "You get what you measure," metrics-based management systems sometimes
produce disappointing results. In this Part II, we look at the effects of employee behavior.
- Wacky Words of Wisdom: V
- Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" are true often enough that we accept them as universal.
They aren't. Here's Part V of some widely held beliefs that mislead us at work.
- How to Waste Time in Meetings
- Nearly everyone hates meetings. The main complaint: they're mostly a waste of time. The main cause:
us. Here's a field manual for people who want to waste even more time.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 21: The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
- When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable. Available here and by RSS on February 21.
- And on February 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
- Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.