Chances are, you were raised right. You say “please” and “thank you.” You cover your mouth when you sneeze. And if a lady is making a beeline for the same door as you, damn right you’ll hold it open. But even the most well-mannered man screws up, and somehow it always seems to happen during the most inopportune times — like job interviews, dinner with future in-laws, or the question portion of the Mister Universe pageant.
Whether you congratulated the HR manager on her pregnancy when she was just wearing an unfortunately-cut shirt, or gave a hearty “thank you, sir!” to someone who’s actually a ma’am, sometimes it seems like all the feet in the world aren’t enough to plug up your piehole. Now you’ve made the people around you uncomfortable and you’re sweating through your shirt — and the more you flap your yapper, the deeper you sink into Humiliationville. Relax, muchacho: with a little forethought (and this ever-so-handy guide), you’ll be back to being Mr. Manners in no time.
Foot-in-Mouth Moment #1
You warmly greet your boss’s wife Carol at the company holiday party. Too bad Carol was his ex-wife....from five years ago.
Oh boy. Not only did you just come across as forgetful and rude, you potentially got someone at a festive occasion dwelling on a not-so-festive past. Provided Carol — whoops, Julie — corrects you (for both of your sakes, let’s hope she does), immediately apologize using her proper name. You can also recover a bit of your dignity in front of your scowling employer by saying something like: “I’m so sorry, Julie. You remind me so much of my wonderful cousin Carol.” By admitting (or fabricating) a positive association instead of that nasty ex business, you’ll smooth over the feeling of not being remembered — and hopefully not have to find another job (which is stressful in its own right).
Pro Tip: When being introduced to someone whose name you must remember (a supervisor’s relative, a girlfriend’s BFF), try using their name in conversation at least three times while looking at their face. (“It’s so nice to see you again, Julie. Tell me more about your chihuahua, Julie. Yes, Julie, Mr. Poopsie-Face is a great name for a dog!”) This will make the name/face association stick in even the most overcrowded brain and help you avoid spur-of-the-moment self-correction (and looking like a dummy).
Foot-in-Mouth Moment #2
You’re hoping to score your band a gig at a hot new music venue, and remark to the owner that the opening act sounded like a pack of drowning cats. Turns out, the lead singer is his wife.
You immediately feel like an ass — and you wouldn’t be wrong. No matter how many puppies you’ve rescued from burning buildings you are, in this moment, a total ass.
In high-pressure situations where you’ve inadvertently ripped apart the dearest heart of someone you’re hoping to impress (or anyone, really), you gotta slam on the brakes and do a 180 ASAP. If possible, redirect your dis to an inanimate third party: the fancy earplugs you’ve gotten have been seriouslydistorting sound lately. (Just don’t attempt to lay it on the dude at the mixing board. For all you know, it’s his favorite cousin.) Then buy the guy a beer, laugh it off, and hope you didn’t just blow your chance at local stardom for good.
Pro Tip: As a general rule of thumb, don’t make disparaging remarks about strangers to anyone you know, especially coworkers. One man’s stranger is another man’s best friend. Prevent last-minute backpedalling by minimizing snark in the first place — you literally have no idea who they are and what they’re into.
Foot-in-Mouth Moment #3
At a fundraiser to end world hunger, you conclude your speech with: “and I hope they serve dinner soon, because I’m starving to death.”
D’oh! When taken in the wrong context, a simple figure of speech can make you look like a frontrunner in the National Insensitivity Awards. When you’ve inadvertently steamrolled an entire class of people, simply put on your serious face and make it all about the folks you just accidentally insulted. A good follow-up? “Well, I may be hungry...but I’m fortunate enough to have a warm meal coming my way. This is why it’s so crucial that we end world hunger today!” Boom. Look who’s Mr. Nice Guy again!
Pro Tip: Next time you’re giving a speech, don’t go off-book. Avoid a need to improv by writing down notes on index cards and practicing in front of a mirror.
Foot-in-Mouth Moment #4
You thought you hung up the conference call before dissing the client. You didn’t.
Uh-oh: now youdunit. Ripping apart a client to the client doesn’t just cost you your dignity: it could potentially cost your company millions in revenue, and potentially your job. Plus, little things like your industry reputation and your paycheck are on the line.
For damage-control purposes, quickly apologize directly to the client if appropriate. If not, write a sincere apology and route it through your supervisor. Then, make amends to them — in person, with true heartfelt contrition, and possibly with a very nice bottle of scotch. You just became a huge pain in her tush since she’s now putting out your fires instead of doing her job. Still, you’ve blown it pretty badly. The honest-to-the-deity-of-your-choice best thing you can do for yourself now is to start backing up your files and looking for a new job.
Pro Tip: This shouldn’t even have to be said, but always triple-check that conference calls have been terminated before saying anything. Then leave the room. Then leave the building. If it were possible to leave the planet, we’d suggest doing that too.
While the above situations may start off as tense, quick thinking and even quicker apologizing will help mitigate the other party’s bad feelings and your own stress. When all else fails, Gillette Clear Gel will help you stay dry and keep cool through any foot-in-mouth occurrences. #NoSweat
Illustration by Rob Dobi.
Anna Schumacher has written for Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, Esquire, and more. Her debut novel, End Times, is out now from Penguin/Razorbill books. Follow her at @SchumacherYA.