How Not To Put Your Foot In Your Mouth
To put your foot in your mouth means to make yourself look foolish by accidentally saying something that offends or embarrasses someone. A few examples:
- You're in a group conversation at a party and tell everyone you think people who do yoga are flakes. The person to your left tells you they're a yoga instructor.
- You're talking with some friends and casually mention how one of them is planning to propose to his girlfriend. He says, "I told you that in confidence. I wasn't ready to tell everyone else yet."
- You're having coffee with a female friend and a man enters the cafe, looks surprised, and starts walking toward your table. You whisper, "Oh no, that creepy, ugly guy is coming up to us." Your friend replies, "That's my new boyfriend."
- You ask a woman when she's expecting her baby. She tells you she's not pregnant.
- You run into an acquaintance and ask him how his wife is. He tells you, "We got divorced last year. You knew that."
Ways to prevent putting your foot in your mouth
It's unrealistic to expect you'll never say something inappropriate. That's especially true if you have some anxious or impulsive tendencies and sometimes speak without thinking. Having a poor memory might also lead to you unintentionally irk people by asking them about things you "should" know already. And occasionally you'll say something harmless, but someone will just take it the wrong way. Here are a few quick things you can keep in mind though:
Be careful about sharing your negative opinions, especially around people you don't know well
Like if you aren't sure whether someone is religious, think twice before casually ranting about how people who believe in God are brainwashed morons. One option is to keep your stronger, more-controversial negative opinions to yourself. Another is to phrase them more diplomatically. For example, rather than angrily proclaiming that romantic comedies are trash, in a friendly tone you could say, "Romantic comedies aren't really my thing." Make it more about your personal tastes, rather than declaring other people are idiots.
This isn't to say you should constantly censor yourself and neuter all your beliefs. If something is really important to you you may decide to talk about it passionately, and that you don't care who you offend. This point is saying to at least quickly weigh the risks and benefits before sharing your negative views, rather than assuming everyone you're talking with is on the same page as you. In fact...
Try to get in the habit of second guessing your assumptions about people
Don't assume a woman with a bigger belly is pregnant. Don't assume everyone in the conversation agrees with the statement you're about to make. Don't assume everyone dislikes the same things you do. Don't assume you know why someone made a change in their lives. See if you can notice yourself making an assumption, then stop to ask yourself if it's actually true.
Take a moment to think about if a piece of information someone told you one-on-one is public knowledge
For example, you're hanging out with several friends. Earlier in the week one of them told you they've been having some problems in their relationship. They never explicitly told you it was private. Still, if you want to bring it up around the group, spend a few seconds thinking about whether it may be something they wouldn't want everyone to know.
Watch your substance use
All kinds of drugs lower your inhibitions and change your sense of what's appropriate to talk about. You might find you rarely put your foot in it when you're sober or have only had a drink or two, but it goes downhill after that.
Longer-term, work on your anxiety or impulsiveness
When you're anxious it can scramble your ability to think clearly, and you may say something inappropriate. Or you may be so worried about seeming boring or causing an awkward silence that you rush to say something without running it through the usual filters. It's not something you can adjust in a week, but if you can reduce your nerves over time you should make fewer gaffes.
Conditions like ADHD can make you blurt out things impulsively. Again, if you can get more control over it you may put your foot in your mouth less often. You can learn strategies to help you slow down, recognize when you're getting the urge to say something, and think about how to best word it.
How to recover if you put your foot in your mouth
If you unintentionally offend someone, own up to it and apologize. If the gaffe was minor and a bit funny, do your best to laugh it off. If you really did insult someone, like by calling their hobby stupid, make your apology more straightforward and sincere. After you've said you're sorry, let the conversation move on. You don't need to linger on the moment forever, even if it might take you a while to stop cringing at yourself.