Careers: Articles - Saying the Wrong Thing

As leaders, it is not uncommon that we have said the wrong thing at the wrong time. Sometimes, it embarrasses us. When we try to cover up our embarrassment with righteous indignation, a real problem can begin. The truth is, to resolve the problem, we have to take responsibility for creating the energy that caused the upset, and that can be difficult at first.

Sometimes, when we have said the wrong thing and have hurt someone on our team, we really can believe that we were helpless to prevent it. We can feel that we have been provoked, and our staff member's behavior is to blame for causing us to say the wrong thing, overreact or just be downright rude. Some leaders have been conditioned to cast blame.

To understand this, there are two issues to consider. First, how could we have created a space for a tendency to blame? For example, did you get your initial leadership training or experience from a company of blamers or is blame prevalent in other areas of your life? If so, then you may have been taught that this kind of projection is reasonable. Second, are you willing to assign the role of a victim to your team members (or yourself)? You have the choice to cast away any thoughts of blame and get to the real problem (which may actually be you). To let go of the roles we have become used to and to choose a new experience is the wisest choice to make, but it isn't easy.

To avoid reinforcing false beliefs that someone other than yourself is responsible for the problem (or for your behavior), don't wait. When you first realize that you have said the wrong thing, stop and apologize. Besides, waiting too long to remedy the situation can cause resentments to build in your company and that will affect the bottom-line.

If your behavior happens because you feel unappreciated, then you need to appreciate yourself. If it's been a hard day, then you need to learn to ask appropriate questions, not snarl, grumble and try to make your team member feel as bad as you do. That creates a win/lose scenario rather than a win/win situation. For more information on asking the right questions, send an e-mail to with the work "Questions" in the subject box.

If you feel your team member has done something that was incorrect, it is appropriate to take immediate action and respond. The correct method is to look at the person and say directly (and kindly) what is that is on your mind or what problems you see occurring from their behaviors.

It can't be fixed if it isn't shared. Your team member, upon realizing that the behavior is inappropriate, should choose the necessary steps to rectify the situation. A little mentoring here may also be a good idea.

Although it is best, it isn't necessary to get an immediate response. Some people need a little time to process their feelings. An hour is the average time it takes for most people to calm down and realize what it is they need to do. If much more time is necessary, or if days go by without the situation being rectified, it may be time to discuss the matter with a third party.

Taking responsibility for mistaken words and doing what is necessary to correct the situation is a sign of a great leader. In addition to making you feel good about yourself and strengthening your character, it will also strengthen your business.

Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D.
For more than two decades Fortune 500 companies, educational institutions, and government organizations worldwide have relied on Dr. Barton Goldsmith to help them develop creative and balanced leadership. He is a highly sought-after keynote speaker, business consultant and nationally syndicated author. His columns appear in over 150 publications, including the Los Angeles Business Journal. Dr. Goldsmith works regularly with The Young President¹s Organization (YPO) and The Executive Committee (TEC). Considered an expert on small business, he has spoken worldwide to groups of 10 to 5,000, and is in high demand for Keynotes, Training and Consulting. He may be contacted through his web site or at (818) 879-9996.



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