How to Recover from Bloopers, Blunders and Faux Pas

The dictionary defines a faux pas, as a false step (which is the literal translation from French) or a breach of etiquette. A blunder is a stupid mistake, to move awkwardly or stumble or to utter stupidly or confusedly. Bloopers are defined as a clumsy mistake, especially one made in public.

Have you ever had a day like that? How do you get your foot out of your mouth?

Recently Harvard University President Lawrence Summers created a crisis by suggesting that women do not have the same natural ability in math and science as men. He then had to apologize, back-peddle and have his advisors step in to help.

Many people think that it’s game over once they have made a blunder. They also believe that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” But it’s not over until YOU decide it is! You get many chances to make a second, third, fourth and fifth impression.

There are ways to handle public and private perturbations.

Simple Strategies for Benign Bloopers

  1. Say “That was a ridiculous thing to say. I take it back.” People find it so much easier to forgive someone who doesn’t appear to believe that he or she is perfect.
  2. Offer a plausible explanation: “My evil twin suddenly made an appearance just then. It’s okay now – he’s/she’s gone.” (I apologize to my twin brother Michael.)
  3. Create a diversion: “That reminds me — the other day when I was answering my email….” and then run away.

It’s clear that these strategies are only effective where you have a decent relationship with the people involved and that it wasn’t a SERIOUS mistake.

But what if you put your foot so far into your mouth that it risks interfering with your intestines?

Artful Approaches for Major Mishaps

Here’s the BAD NEWS FORMULA developed by Veli-Matti Toivonen and Tim Murphey. Using the power of AND and BUT, it was designed to deliver bad news without being a downer, but it fits quite well for erasing erroneous words.

Here’s how it goes:

Bad News
BUT good news
AND good news
AND good news.

Here’s what Lawrence Summers could have said to heal the hemorrhage:

“My words were clearly chosen badly BUT they don’t represent my true feelings AND I fully support the women in our institution AND have created measures to improve their status that I would like to talk to you about now.”

There are times when you weren’t happy with how you handled a phone or in-person conversation and felt it was too late to correct. Maybe it isn’t too late. You could try the “I’ve been thinking” Approach.Phone up the person when you know they are unlikely to be there and leave the following message:”Hello Mario, it’s Shelle. Remember the conversation we had about rubber balloons? Well, I’ve been thinking. Can you give me a call please?”

Chances are they will be curious enough to call you back to find out what you were thinking. When you speak to them remind them of the topic and then give them the fruit of your deliberations. I find that the people I know really appreciate it when I admit when I might have been wrong and can make a useful suggestion.

Bring the Repair Kit

As we become ever more rushed in our work, and in organizing our harried home lives, our productivity in producing bloopers, blunders and faux pas increases incredibly.

If you have a Repair Kit in your mental tool bag with some simple strategies and artful approaches, you will never need to fear foot in mouth disease again.

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