How to Recover From Verbal Blunders

Face-saving strategies for common―and embarassing―social gaffes.

  • Sarah Humphreys

Saying What You Think (Without Thinking First)


Real-life example: "While talking to my friend's girlfriend during a New Year's Eve party, I launched into a long tirade about my distaste for the Republican Party," says a woman from Washington, D.C. "It turns out her father was a big fund-raiser for George W. Bush."
 
How to remove your foot: Whether you've just denounced single-sex education to a Smith College alumna or SUVs to a Chevy Suburban driver, the best way out is to laugh and chide yourself. Caroline Tiger, the author of How to Behave: A Guide to Modern Manners for the Socially Challenged ($13, amazon.com), suggests softening the blow with a line like "Oh, I should have listened to my mother when she told me not to talk about controversial subjects at parties!"
 
Regardless of the situation or subject, resist the temptation to automatically apologize. "It's obviously something you feel strongly about, and backtracking would sound insincere," says Tiger. Listen politely if the person counters with her philosophy, then segue to a neutral subject.
 
In the future: You don't need to censor yourself, but expect―and respect―dissenters. "Sure, going off about something can leave you in an awkward situation," says Nick Morgan, the founder of Public Words, a communications coaching company based in Arlington, Massachusetts. "But it's disagreement and differences that make life interesting." Of course, very controversial or potentially hurtful views should be kept to yourself, unless you're among close (and forgiving) friends.