by Steve Adubato, PhD
Our parents always told us to choose our words wisely, because sometimes we can’t take them back. This is more true now than ever with social media dominating our communication, both professionally and personally. The second you say something, especially if you are in the public eye, your words can go viral on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, you name it.
Consider the recent examples of two public figures who retracted their words seconds after saying them, but they still took a hit.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback and New Jersey native Joe Flacco doesn’t like the idea of the 2014 Super Bowl being held at MetLife Stadium. When a reporter from the Denver Post asked Flacco for his thoughts about this "cold weather" venue, Flacco said; "Yeah, I think it’s retarded."
But then Flacco immediately thought better of his off-the-cuff communication and said, "I probably shouldn’t say that. I think it’s stupid…"
But if Flacco had paused before he spoke, it’s not likely he would have used such an offensive and inappropriate word to describe his feelings.
Now consider New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s comments a couple of weeks ago characterizing Gov. Chris Christie’s economic policies.
Said Sweeney (D-Gloucester) at a crowded news conference: "We gave the governor a jobs package…He vetoed it. And his job package is a hurricane. I guess he prayed a lot and got lucky a storm came. (And then a second later.) I shouldn’t say that...I apologize for saying it."
Just a few days later, in a public television interview I conducted with Sweeney, he acknowledged that he spoke those words without thinking them through and also wasn’t feeling well that day as he was recovering from the flu. He didn’t offer it as an excuse and it was clear his words were hurtful to the thousands of New Jersey residents who lost their homes and businesses due to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.
This sort of communication faux pas happens all the time in business. It happens in conversations, board rooms, sales meetings and networking events.
But what do we do about all this, particularly in the social media obsessed world that we live in?
Consider these tips:
- Actually think before you speak. Just take two or three seconds and you will be amazed at how quickly and effectively your mind can organize your thoughts and in turn your words in a fashion that more effectively gets your point across.
- Don’t say the first thing that comes to your mind. Screen that word or phrase and ask yourself if there is a better way to say it. Believe it or not, you really can do that in just a few seconds. (Pausing also communicates to your audience that you care enough to think through what you are saying.)
- Consider communicating nothing at all. Sometimes when you are not exactly sure what words you want to use to make your point, say nothing. Hang back. Take a pass. You don’t have to have an opinion on every topic. This is more difficult for public figures who are expected to speak on a variety of topics, but for most business professionals, you can be more selective and strategic in your communication.
- Always remember where you are. Before you speak, realize that certain language is acceptable among friends and family in social and private situations. However, these same words can be misunderstood and potentially offensive in public. The key is to know the difference.
- Finally, apologize quickly, concisely and honestly for saying something that you know you shouldn’t have said. Own it with no excuses.