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15 Things to Do When You’ve Said Something You Regret

Uh-oh. The words flew out of your mouth before your brain could process their potential impact. Maybe you made a sarcastic remark about your date’s new hairstyle … or criticized her parents … or attempted a joke that came across as a putdown.

Sadly, there’s no rewind button for real life and no app to help you edit out blunders. So if the wrong words escaped your lips, here’s how to make the situation right:

1. Toss out that old saying about sticks and stones. It was never true—words really can hurt. If you’re tempted to minimize the impact your words have had … don’t.

2. Consider the consequences. Have you mildly hurt someone’s feelings or ignited a firestorm? Realistically evaluate the damage done.

3. Give this person some time and space. Hurtful words elicit an emotional reaction. Sometimes it’s best to let the intense feelings cool a bit before attempting to assuage them.

4. But not too much time and space. Waiting too long to address the issue will complicate matters even more. As soon as you sense the time is right to discuss your mistake, do it.

5. Never accuse another of being “too sensitive.” This shifts the blame from you to the other person. Plus, these would be more words to regret later.

6. Skip excuses and rationalizations. You’ll only dig a deeper hole by saying things like, “I was just kidding” or “I was stressed out and not thinking clearly.”

7. Take responsibility. If you’ve blown it, the best way to recover is by admitting the error of your ways. Be a stand-up kind of person, and be accountable for your actions.

8. Offer a sincere apology. Few people reject a heartfelt apology. But if they detect a whiff of insincerity, your words of contrition will fall flat.

9. Be sure to include the words, “I’m sorry.” Many people find those two words extremely difficult to say, but a true apology will need them.

10. Validate their feelings. Let him/her know you “get it.” Say something like, “I know my comment sounded critical, and I understand why you’re upset.”

11. Seek to make amends with a tangible act. Depending upon the degree of your slip-up, a tangible act of atonement may be called for: a handwritten note, a bouquet of flowers, or a special homemade meal.

12. Assure the person your thoughtless words don’t reflect your heart. This person may wonder if there is some deeper meaning behind your unkind remark. Let him/her know your inconsiderate comments were a case of “temporary insanity.”

13. Declare your intentions to tame your tongue. You can’t promise to never say something hurtful again—nobody could keep that promise. But you can promise to try your hardest to avoid making the same mistake again.

14. Invite them to ask questions. The person you hurt probably has some things to say in return. Listen carefully, without becoming defensive.

15. Cut yourself a little slack. If you’ve made a verbal flub, join the club! Few relationships last more than a few months without some kind of big faux pas. What’s more, most people are reasonable and willing to forgive.

How did you handle it when you said something you later regretted?

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