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Minding Your Tongue: How to Recover from a Slip and Fail

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foot_mouthWhether it is a minor slip of the tongue or an entire foot in the mouth, either can lead to some uncomfortable moments followed by the instinct to explain what was “really meant.”  While most are truly embarrassed and even remorseful when making a racially, culturally, or gender-related insensitive comment, attempts to make explanations or excuses often create a more uncomfortable situation for both speaker and hearers.

Admit and Apologize

If recognition of the faux pas is immediate – as often happens- it is best not to wait for acknowledgment that it was received negatively. Unfortunately, all too often such comments are left unchallenged either by the intended or unintended target of the comment or bystanders.[1] Do not walk away with the false sense of relief that the comment went unnoticed, it is almost a definite it was noticed. The most effective thing to do is to admit you were insensitive, admit your own embarrassment, and apologize for any discomfort or embarrassment caused to others.[2]

Air Out and Move On

 Often an admission of insensitivity and a sincere apology is enough to move beyond the moment; however, depending upon the comment and others involved it may be necessary for some open discussion; again, no excuses. Having discussions of race and culture are often uncomfortable, especially in times when cultural tensions are high. Some may feel that there is an oversensitivity, but unless shoes are on other feet and miles walked in them, these types of assumptions should not be made. It is believed by diversity and inclusion professionals[3] that a work environment that invites open dialogue on these sensitive topics is one where employees develop an awareness of their own biases all the while fostering an awareness and appreciation for those who are different.

Diversity Training – Not a One and Done

 Most organizations offer diversity and inclusion training as a part of their onboarding process, annually to satisfy EEOC requirements, or in reaction to an occurrence; however due to a lack of follow up, many fall short of being truly effective.[4] Just as employees receive ongoing development of their professional skills and knowledge base, they should receive ongoing training in the areas of racial and cultural awareness, [5] for one cannot be sensitive to the feelings of others, until he or she forms an awareness and appreciation for the differences that exists and enrich the workplace.

 Take Responsibility for Racial and Cultural Awareness

 It is important to realize that as our workplaces become increasingly diverse that in the absence of continual training individuals should take some responsibility for their knowledge of other cultures. The age of technology and instant information leaves few excuses for a lack of effort to learn more about the people within shared work environments.

Make it your mission to get to know your co-workers. It is okay to express genuine interest in their culture, cuisine, and traditions. Our lives can be enriched greatly when we invite new people and new experiences into our midst. The more we learn about other cultures, the less likely we are to open our mouths and insert our feet. The closer and more familiar we are with our co-workers, the easier it is to make amends if or when we do.

 

[1] Premack, “14 Things People Think Are Fine to Say at Work — but Are Actually Racist, Sexist, or Offensive.”

[2] “How to Apologize at Work after Making a Microaggressive Comment – Business Insider.”

[3] Miranda-Wolff, “How to Talk about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”

[4] Blackman, “What Is Diversity & Inclusion Training?”

[5] Florentine, “Diversity and Inclusion.”


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