Skip to main content

Did I Just Say That?! How To Handle Verbal Slip-Ups At Work

You're in a meeting when something you didn't mean to say suddenly slips out of your mouth.

You meant to say "please sit," but somehow you added an "H" to the word "sit." (And no, it's not "sith.")

Maybe you said "leverage our asses" during a meeting instead of "leverage our assets."

Perhaps you were so tired this morning that you didn't realize you switched your words around during the daily team meet. We're going to need to peel back the onion of the layers, everyone. Let's go do it!


Hey, don't get down on yourself. Verbal mix-ups happen to the best of us, and often when we least expect it! Whether we like to call them Freudian slips or malapropisms or sleep deprivation, research reveals that we throw in up to two spoken flubs for every 1,000 words we speak.

These data, presumably, apply also to every-day business conversations. Maybe we'll coin a new word in the process. Um, convalescenses?

The question is, what should we do when we make an embarrassing verbal gaffe at work?

Our first order of business is to decide, amid our silent sense of mortification, whether to openly acknowledge our verbal gaffe or to simply pretend that it never happened.

Most of us would prefer to move on as quickly as possible. That's the most natural response we have available in our professional lexicon. Maybe my co-workers didn't hear me say "paradigm s%&t" instead of "paradigm shift"? Please tell me they didn't hear me say that...

Oh, but they may have -- if their facial expressions are any indication!

My advice? Most professionals will understand your predicament; they're just glad it's not their turn this time! Everyone had made their fair share of verbal gaffes, even if they won't admit it.

If you feel compelled to acknowledge your verbal screw-up in a meeting, working lunch or some other business setting, then you might say: "Oops, that sure didn't come out of my mouth correctly, did it? My apologies, everyone," or something similar. Keep it light, then move on. Sometimes, we need to laugh at ourselves on the job; it's what makes us human! Self-deprecation in small doses can be a severely under-appreciated skill in our overly-serious career culture.

Do not dwell on your verbal gaffe or circle back to it throughout the day ("I still can't believe I said that -- five hours ago!"). Get in with a quick acknowledgement if you must, then get out as soon as possible. Your goal is to be as graceful as a swan on the surface even if you are paddling furiously underneath the surface to leave your comment far in the distance.

If your verbal gaffe has greatly offended another professional, then be quick to address it one-on-one with a short, simple apology that doesn't stray into long-winded excuses (e.g., "I must be really tired from the weekend and...") or explanations. Again, the vast majority of working professionals will let it go.

When we're the one who commits a verbal snafu, we feel instantly mortified -- like the whole room must have heard it! But keep in mind that the audience might be wondering if they somehow misheard us. It's always a possibility. Hmm, I could have sworn they said "boob sky this" instead of "blue sky this," but maybe I need more coffee? Yes, that must be it. Never discount our tendency to doubt our own ears.

Above all, don't make a big deal about it. That's the worse thing you can do in these situations. This too shall pass. Now go offer your client a good turkey** solution, will you?

** turnkey, in case you're wondering.


Popular posts from this blog

Seven tips for dealing with a jealous coworker

Look at you, doing so well at work! We're so happy for you. Well, most of us are happy for you and refuse to spend the entire work day talking behind your back. Let's talk about how to handle our jealous co-workers!Like every other professional, you've no doubt experienced your share of failures and successes. Lately, however, things seem to be going your way at work. And how! Perhaps you've managed to ace an important project this quarter, been instrumental in landing a huge client, earned some well-deserved rewards for this and that, or -- egads! -- been given a slight promotion or additional work responsibilities (e.g., the work responsibilities you actually want).You're quietly chuffed, but somehow your co-workers seem none too pleased with this rapid turn of events. Oh no, what should you do now?It's a workplace tale older than the disjointed last season of Mad Men. The playing field in the department was even, cozy and overall very friendly -- until so-an…

Employees Blame Technology For Slowing Them Down At Work

Do you feel like you're always working, but never getting very much done? If so, you're not alone. Too much technology, and too much red tape, keep slowing us down at work. But technology, and more of it, is supposed to make our lives easier! Too much technology, however, does not compute for employees. A new SAP/Knowledge@Wharton survey of almost 700 corporate employees finds a full 60% of respondents blame technology "for inhibiting their ability to meet strategic goals." Gee, anyone who has ever used the self-checkout line at the grocery store can tell you that. However, 40% surveyed said that looking for ways to simplify the technology has been "a low priority" for their company. Too much paperwork is an on-going problem for the workplace, too. A new ServiceNow survey of nearly 1,000 managers finds that 90% are doing too much administrative work, no matter the size of the company. This paperwork includes filling out forms, writing status updates, …

Is Your Co-worker Always Late For Work?

You've started the workday, but where is your co-worker? Oh, she's running late again, just like yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. Let's get an early start on solving her tardiness problem, shall we? Working with someone who is consistently late is one of the most annoying aspects of office life, and also one of the most common, unfortunately. It's a universal theme of the workplace that everyone will get to work on time (give or take a few minutes...) except for the employee who is egregiously late nearly every day. And the excuses can get pretty amazing. Employees became more punctual as the Great Recession lingered, at least according to surveys. Everyone, that is, except for your able-bodied but habitually-tardy co-worker. It's bad enough dealing with tardiness when you're a manager, but it can be even more frustrating when you're a rank-and-file peer without any magical "shape up or ship out" managerial powers. So you…