How to Survive When You Open Your Mouth at the Wrong Time
Foolishness always results when the tongue outraces the brain.
There is nothing more embarrassing than the realisation that your mouth has spouted out some form of humiliating verbal howler.
But it's not just words that can cause us to plead for the ground to open up and swallow us whole. Our actions can also cause the most mortifying moments in our lives.
When the realisation dawns that we have blundered, what can we do to gain our composure and restore our self esteem?
I just wish my mouth had a backspace key.
It might be helpful to identify the circumstances when it’s more likely to say something embarrassing.
The following situations are just a few that could be termed red zones:
- At social gatherings where most of the people are unknown to you.
Be careful about who you speak to and what you say. For example, when speaking to someone, don't make critical comments about other guests – the person you are speaking to could be related/a friend of the guest you are talking about.
Alcohol loosens the tongue to a lethal degree as I'm sure most of us know to our cost. What is worse, alcohol often makes you feel like you are acting very sophisticated and intelligent, when in fact the opposite is true.
- When you’re nervous.
Anxiety can often make your tongue race well ahead of your brain. When nervous, many of us tend to talk too fast and without really thinking about what we are saying. We are trying so hard not to look and sound foolish, that unfortunately we end up doing just that.
It's the same with our actions. Nerves will lead you to be more accident-prone in any environment.
- Talking to the wrong kinds of people.
For example gossipers and loud mouths - these kinds of people always make social gaffs deliberately or otherwise. If you happen to be in their company when they are involved in slagging someone, it's very difficult for you to look totally innocent.
- Trying to make an impression.
Don't try too hard. Be honest about yourself. Speak frankly and truthfully about your achievements. But be wary about building yourself up to an improbable degree. It could back-fire making you look big-headed and immature.
How to cope when you've said or done the wrong thing
“The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” ~Dorothy Nevill
There are a few strategies that you can use when you land yourself in an awkward situation:
These might be things such as:
- You get a person's name wrong or forgetting their name.
- Mispronounce names or words while doing a speech/talking to company.
- A joke has back-fired and the only response to the punch line is lowered eyes and silence from the people around you.
- Letting out an unintentional swear word in an inappropriate place.
Handling minor mistakes
Forgetting names/mispronouncing names can be very embarrassing for both parties.
If you forget someone's name, you can say something such as:
- "Sorry I didn't quite catch your name earlier" or similar.
If you mispronounce a name you simply apologise for the error and practice the name in your head, especially if you are required to introduce the person to others.
Another good way to help yourself in this situation is to be very honest with the person and say something like:
- “That’s a very distinct name; could you pronounce it for me slowly so that I get it right?”
If you just can't get the name right then you're going to have to try a cop out such as:
- "There's an urgent phone call, can I leave you two to introduce yourselves?" Or get someone else to do the introductions.
Often the best thing to do with minor mishaps is to ignore the situation and carry on as if nothing has happened.
Alternatively, just change the subject. This is a good strategy if your attempt at humour is not accepted well or if you had inadvertently let out a swear word.
Another strategy is to excuse your self and leave the area. Go somewhere quiet. Take a deep breath. Hold your head high. Square your shoulders and carry on.
Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself. Even the most confident and successful people make a fool of themselves at some time.
These can be difficult to deal with and some situations need delicate handling. Very often the only thing you can do is to give a sincere apology. Then learn from the experience. Some examples might be:
You've been caught out in a lie.
Be honest about it. Come clean and apologise. Don't make excuses. If you had a legitimate reason for the lie - for example you felt uncomfortable telling the truth or you believed a lie would spare people's feelings - then give a clear explanation of this.
You're caught saying something uncomplimentary about a person who has just overheard you.
Even if you think you have just cause for your remarks, don't make excuses. Apologise to the person and make assurances that it won't happen again. If you have a problem with someone this should be said only to the person concerned and in private. This is a situation that is not recoverable in a matter of minutes or days. It could take significantly longer.
While talking to a stranger, you make a callous remark about another person only to find out that they are related/friends of the stranger.
There is only one thing you can do - apart from squirming - and that is to apologise. Keep it short and simple, but sincere. Excuse yourself and leave the room.
What Not To Do
- When you are apologising for some blunder, don't grovel and creep. Firstly, you will lose not only your self-respect but the respect of most other people. Secondly, grovelling is false and gives the impression, not of a heartfelt apology, but as an act to sooth your guilty feelings.
- When you have apologised or made other amends, drop the subject forever. Don't beat yourself over the head for months to come because of a mistake. You are only human and we all make mistakes.
- Don't ever try to pass the blame onto someone else or implicate another person. This is one sure fire way to loose all respect from everyone involved. Not only that, even if you manage to build bridges later on, when you get a reputation for trying to blame others, this tends to be remembered for a very long time.
Have you ever made a glaring blunder while speaking to other people?
Quotes and Spoonerisms
Below are some of the most common slips of the tongue - or to use the proper name - spoonerisms. I've also included some quotes about that most devious of body parts, the tongue.
Common slips of the tongue
- sealing the hick - healing the sick
- go help me sod - so help me God
- pit nicking - nit picking
- nicking your pose - picking your nose
- you have very mad banners - you have very bad manners
- lack of pies - pack of lies
- our queer old Dean - our dear old Queen
- we'll have the hags flung out - we'll have the flags hung out
Quotes of Wisdom
- I have often repented speaking, but never of holding my tongue - Xenocrates of Chalcedon
- In nine times out of ten, the slanderous tongue belongs to a disappointed person - George Bancroft
- Let a fool hold his tongue and he will pass for a sage - Publilius Syrus
- Listen or your tongue will keep you deaf - Native American Proverb
- Loose tongues are worse than wicked hands - Jewish Proverb
- Nature has given us two ears, two eyes, and but one tongue; to the end we should hear and see more than we speak - Greek Proverb
I hope you've found something that is useful to you in this article. In addition, if you have any experiences you would like to share with us, please let us know through the comments section.
©Seeker7/H M Howell August, 2013