When You Mean Well, But Put Your Foot in Your Mouth
Dunkin’ Donuts is a comfort to me when I travel.
When I see a Dunkin’, I think everything is going to be OK. It’s not that I eat donuts. I eat a bagel with a medium coffee, cream and sugar.
Foot in mouth incident:
On the way home from New York City, I told my bride, “I’d rather see you than a Dunkin’ Donuts.” We’d just passed a Dunkin’ Donuts.
What I meant was, “You’re a comfort to me.” But strangely, she didn’t take a liking to being compared to Dunkin’ Donuts.
I explained that seeing a Dunkin’ Donuts makes me feel like everything is going to be OK. (I admit that’s strange.) My explanation helped but comparing my wife to a donut is – generally speaking – a bad idea.
When you mean well, but put your foot in your mouth:
- Declare your intention.
- Begin again with greater wisdom.
Trust and screwing up:
Comparing my wife to Dunkin’ Donuts is humorous – now that she understands what I meant and I realize how dumb the statement sounds.
Every once in a while, I’m going to say, “I’d rather see you than a Dunkin’ Donuts.” We’ll laugh and she’ll know that I love her.
Trust makes mistakes useful, after you make things right.
What dumb things might leaders do after they screw up?
How might leaders get the most from screwing up?
What to do when you’ve Said the Wrong Thing (NYTimes)
How to Gracefully Backpedal when you’ve said the Wrong Thing (FC)
Oh my! Apologize and clarify! Damage is done! Time to move forward, yet watch your back!
What dumb things might leaders do after they screw up?
“Honey, let’s stop at the next DD and get a coffee and bagel.”
LOL!!! Thanks Paul.
I just went through this with a new team. I’m leading a change effort, and during the kickoff discussion someone asked if I could speak to some changes that everyone knows are in discussion, but not underway yet.
I responded with what I thought was a request to hold of on specifics, since this was the first meeting and a kickoff for the group. I have since heard that it sounded to others like I had “G14 clearance” (a phrase that I have never heard, but understood immediately.) I. was. horrified. Mostly because it would be awfully pretentious of me to do such a thing! And secondly, because I’m waiting for that information too.
Now I’m scheduling the second meeting and one of the first things I’m going to do is clarify and use this as an opportunity for this group to challenge me and each other. I will ask them to ask for clarity going forward. You can’t watch everything that comes out of your mouth for every level of understanding. That would mean the end of extemporaneous speech.
Thanks Stephanie. It seems that including others in the journey toward clarity is useful. Lets all make ourselves responsible for clear communication.
Of course, a leader can’t use the excuse, “You didn’t ask for clarity.” But it’s still important to make communication a two-way street.
My husband (when we were dating, and had just moved in together), once said “WOW! You look really pretty with make-up on!”. He realized his mistake instantly and just walked away with his head held low. His true intention, was just trying to tell me I looked really nice dressed up. I was getting ready for a Wedding, and therefore was more glamorous than usual. We still laugh about it.
I often use this example with leaders when explaining how positive feedback can back fire, if not appropriately phrased. Also in explaining most of the time, the person had the best of intentions.
I love this story and it definitely resonates. I am a strong believer in increasing connections or “connectedness,” which I don’t think is actually a word, with team members and people in general. The better I know someone the more likely they are to give me the benefit of the doubt if I make a mistake or say something stupid and vice versa.
And, while you may not currently be a donut eater, should you flip to the dark side, Krispy Kreme is better, and I say that having grown up in NJ.
“I’ve just made a poor word choice,” — saying it sooner rather than later minimizes the damage. Leaders talk a lot – we are called upon to transfer thoughts/ideas, so it happens.
“LeadershipAbnormality” just doesn’t have the same ring! 🙂
Admit the mistake/screw up, in front of your team. It shows you aren’t perfect and shows that you have integrity. I made a couple mistakes during a new employee orientation and corrected them in person. That showed my staff that I make mistakes, but am willing to own up to them. It also creates trust with them because they see a higher expectation and accountability.
When I mess up, I resist the urge to explain. Seems like that always comes off as making an excuse or being defensive. I’m practicing a simple, “I’m sorry I X. This is how I’m working to get better…”
Thanks Christi. Well said. Simplicity rules. Lets move forward.
I like the key points in the New York Times article you shared: “assess the harm”, “don’t catastrophize”, “don’t let it fester”, “take responsibility”, “validate their pain”, “be genuine”, “explain how it won’t happen again”, “reset”, and “let it go”. This is a perfect list to follow. Much of it seems like common sense when you read them, but honestly how many of us are mature enough with our own emotions to handle these steps exactly the way they are explained in the article? I think this all falls back on sincere empathy. We all screw up at times, but if we can articulate our empathy then we can bounce back. One of the dumbest things a leader might do after he or she screws up is to ignore it and assume the affected individual will get over it. I’ve known some leaders to unintentionally say some obtuse things and then just hide from that employee for a while. I remember doing the same when I was a child. When I was a child and would have a fight with a friend I would rarely apologize, but rather just wait a few days, weeks, or months in hopes that eventually it would get better. I think as leaders (and even as followers) we grow in our professional lives to acknowledge the value and importance of others and should find ways to mend broken relationships that we didn’t intend to break.
Thanks Gary. It’s one thing to know the right thing to do. It’s another to actually do it.
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