At a recent funeral I attended, some home-grown musicians labored mightily to perform  soothing selections before the service started. Although consolation was the intent, torture was the result; off-key “music” produces all the comfort of fingernails screeching across a blackboard for me.

When at last they finished and the sanctuary was left blessedly silent, I heard someone clearly say, “Thank God!”  I nodded in agreement, but with horror realized that the voice I had heard was my own!  Stunned at my funeral faux pas, I glanced at the woman next to me, to see if my remark had, in fact, been audible.  The look she shot me told me everything I needed to know.  Oops.

Foot-in-Mouth Disease. We all (even U.S. Presidents) suffer from it occasionally.

In 2008 George Bush used his rudimentary knowledge of Spanish to call out, “Amigo! Amigo!” to Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi at the G-8 Summit. And he complimented Pope Benedict XVI with, “Your eminence, you’re looking good,” the title used for Catholic cardinals, vs. “your holiness,” reserved for Popes. Oops.

Barack Obama isn’t free of semantic slip-ups either. The following year, he joked on “The Tonight Show:” “‘I bowled a 129. It’s like — it was like Special Olympics or something.”’   Oops.

Can one recover from these embarrassing or career-threatening moments of idiocy? Taking these steps will help.

1. Pay attention to yourself!
I know it’s a BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious) but prevention is the best way to avoid verbal minefields.. Think through what you’re going to say and stay focused while you’re saying it – don’t be multi-tasking.

2. Apologize.
(Of course, this step assumes you know you’ve misspoken. As in my case at the funeral, it may be a look you get from someone else that provides you with your first clue!) Quickly and sincerely say you’re sorry, and perhaps add, “I don’t know what I was thinking!” and move quickly on to the next step.

3. Redirect the conversation.
Introduce a topic that can be easily commented on, such as a new idea, the next item on an agenda, or an event. (“Hey, how’ bout them Huskers?!” isn’t always appropriate, but you get the idea.)  Keep eye contact with people to help you focus on the new topic and to help others around you relax a bit.

4. Step away from the disaster.
You said it, you apologized, you eased the tension, you moved on. As traffic-directing police say at the site of an accident, “Keep moving, folks; nothing to see here.” Just put the incident behind you and continue the meeting or conversation.

What if someone else’s remark offends you?
Correct the offender as calmly and directly as possible, accept the apology, and redirect the conversation to a new topic yourself. As a good friend of mine says, “I try to assume that the person making the goofy/inappropriate comment had a positive intent. They did not mean to be annoying. True or not it does help the moving-on process.”

If your organization would like a keynote speech or training program on this or other topics, contact Jeanne Baer at  (402) 475-1127 or visit me on the web at or via email at
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