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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!

Huh?

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.


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