How to avoid the foot-in-mouth syndrome

Prepare well before you discuss a touchy topic with your colleague so you don't have to swallow your words later

businesswoman talking to her colleaguePerhaps the most difficult part of having a conversation on a sensitive topic with someone you work with on a daily basis is getting the process started. Most people open these conversations with little preparation because they can no longer contain their emotions. When this happens, you may sometimes say things that you may regret later. Hence, it is wise to think before you speak, especially about issues that may have an emotional charge.

Think-before-you-talk techniques

These techniques are specifically designed to help facilitate the necessary thinking required before you talk with your team mates about something that is bothering you. You don’t need to use them all, try the ones that are easiest for you and see how they work.

  • Sleep on it, forget about it for awhile, watch some TV, cook, go fishing to allow your feelings to settle a little. Perhaps you’ll have a different perspective. But don’t use any of these as an avoidance technique.
  • Make sure that the issue is real and you’re not just complaining. It’s easy to blame someone else for your hurt feelings; so check yourself out before you point a finger.
  • Before you share it, think about who you’re talking to and how they receive your input. If your co-worker is the visual type, perhaps s/he would respond more favourably to something in writing to get the conversation started.
  • Talk with someone else to get a read on your feelings before you talk to the person you’re having the issue with. However, don’t allow yourself to be overly influenced by someone else’s opinion.
  • Write down what you want to say. Making a pros and cons list may be the simplest way of deciding what needs to be discussed or if it’s appropriate to have the conversation at all.
  • Don’t generalise. Also be prepared with examples. Putting your issues into categories may help you with this. { If you think a conversation is going to be painful, remember that you usually feel better after it’s over.
  • Make an appointment with the person to talk. This can give you the opportunity to get away from your normal routine and have some quiet time to discuss things in an appropriate fashion. Also, be prepared for him or her to say that right now is the best time to talk. Remember, be kind. It’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Venting your anger will only make the gap wider and the issue more clouded. If you are physically or emotionally unbalanced, your ability to behave appropriately will be diminished.
  • Before the actual conversation, imagine or visualise the conversation going the way you want it to go. Allow yourself to feel good about how you’ll handle the issue.

Processing your feelings before you lay them to your colleague will help you deliver them in the most appropriate manner. It will also help the actual discussion to be smoother. Once you experience having a positive conversation about a difficult subject, the next ones will not seem as daunting.

Barton Goldsmith
Dr Barton Goldsmith, PhD, an award-winning and highly sought-after keynote speaker, business consultant and internationally syndicated author, has helped develop creative and balanced leadership in several Fortune 500 companies, educational institutions, and government organisations worldwide. He lives in California, USA.


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