Social Mistake: Unintentionally Insulting People

Many social mistakes aren't that big a deal. You may not want to make them, and cringe at yourself when you do, but no one else cares that much. Like if you stumble over your words, or talk about your hobby a tad too long, you might come across as a bit nervous or clumsy, but no one's going to hate you for it.

One type of social gaffe that is a bigger deal, and can get quite a negative reaction is when you unintentionally insult someone. That is, you do it entirely out of social thoughtlessness and obliviousness. Even if the other person realizes you didn't put them down on purpose, they'll still feel annoyed for being insulted, and that you didn't know how to avoid being hurtful. (Of course, putting someone down deliberately is also bad, but that's not what this article will focus on.)

Examples of unintentional insults

How not to accidentally insult people

As I said, the cause of comments like this is thoughtlessness about other people's feelings, and obviousness about what kinds of things are socially appropriate to say or not. Here are some ways to avoid these types of gaffes in the future:

What to do if you accidentally insult someone

If someone gets annoyed and tells you you've offended them, take it seriously. Don't make the mistake of brushing them off with a "Nah, I didn't mean anything bad by it." Even if you think they're being too sensitive, you still hurt their feelings. You're going to look bad if you try to argue with them about it. Give them a brief, sincere apology. For example, "Sorry, that was a stupid thing to say. I clearly didn't think before I spoke."

Reflect on what type of inappropriate comment you made, and try not to say that kind of thing again in the future. In a sense, it's good that you got called out for your behavior. That's better than if the other person was silently irritated at you and stopped inviting you out in the future. At least now you know what you did wrong and can avoid doing the same thing going forward.

Also, ask yourself if you really made the comment completely by accident. Sometimes people make seemingly unintentional hurtful remarks out of passive-aggressiveness, not obliviousness. For various reasons they resent others, but don't feel able to confront them directly. Instead, they jab at them with cutting remarks that they can plausibly deny as being said out of thoughtlessness. Sometimes they're aware they're doing this. At other times their motivation is unconscious. If you think you're sniping at people in a passive-aggressive way, learn to communicate more assertively.