how do I stop speaking without thinking in professional situations?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’ve just got back from a work event where I made a indiscreet and critical comment about one of our sponsor companies. The moment I said it, I knew I had messed up. Nobody really reacted and it’s highly probable nothing will ever come of it, but this is not the first time I’ve opened my mouth without thinking, and no matter how much I agonize over it afterwards I still go and do it again.

How do people stop themselves doing this? I work with a bunch of wonderful and professional colleagues who never do this sort of thing. It’s as though I treat everyone I meet as a friend and forget that actual professional boundaries exist and there are some things I shouldn’t say. Is there a trick to getting this into your brain? I’m so frustrated and disappointed with myself when I do this.

I’ve struggled with this myself at times. I tend to be a “say what you think” person, and it hasn’t always been natural for me to rein it in when I needed to. What helped me was being very deliberate about reminding myself right before important meetings/calls/events to be a little more on guard. “On guard” is actually overstating it — but basically reminding yourself that you’re going to be the more polished version of yourself for the next three hours. Just naming that intention for yourself can sometimes put you into the mental space you need to be in.

What other advice do people have on this one?

{ 242 comments… read them below or add one }

    1. SezU

      This is my go to. I think it. Then I take a pause. Often I end up not saying it out loud. It’s hard… but I learned to overcome the same issue!

      Reply
    2. Kathenus

      I love is and the WAIT below. I haven’t read all the comments yet, but my new go to is the three questions approach – 1) does it need to be said, 2) does it need to be said now, and 3) does it need to be said by me. This has really helped me navigate some tricky cultural issues within my peer group at my current job.

      Reply
    3. Ms. Mistopheles

      “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”—Unknown (sometimes erroneously attributed to Twain, Lincoln, or Hemingway)

      Reply
  1. Detective Amy Santiago

    In a meeting setting, jot down your thoughts. It’s a win-win of making you appear engaged with taking notes and it forces you to think about what you’re saying.

    In a more casual setting, it’s definitely harder. I’m also the kind of person who (a) speaks their mind and (b) likes to think I’m funny so I’ve been there. I don’t think there’s any secret, just reminding yourself constantly.

    Reply
    1. WomanOfMystery

      I’m half-considering making myself a needlepoint that says, “No comedy bits in front of VPs!” because…it’s happened.

      Reply
      1. WellRed

        Oh, this just gave me a flashback to the recent “funny” letter writer who insisted on cracking jokes in every situation and even came up with something about eating dead babies. So yes, “no comedy bits in front of VPs” words to live by.

        Reply
        1. LJay

          I was thinking of the one where the OPs coworker “trolled” the VP or some other similar boss by saying she had kids when she didn’t.

          Reply
    2. Natatat

      I really like this idea. Writing down thoughts during meetings, and then committing to make verbal comments based on written thoughts, may help catch any comments that might otherwise bypass your “professional mode” filter if you didn’t have the step of writing it down first.

      Reply
    3. smoke tree

      Trying to be funny is also a huge danger area for me. I find it helpful to identify the things that are most likely to tempt me into saying something I’ll regret, and making jokes is definitely the biggest one.

      Reply
  2. anonymoushiker

    Oh, I am this person too. I think Alison’s suggestion is great. I’m still grappling with this and have by no means come to a comfortable middle ground yet (I think it’s good to have someone who will speak honestly, but there are certainly boundaries and limits that we have to id as individuals).
    I have two possible suggestions that you can take or leave: perhaps internally articulating goals for yourself in terms of conversations that are planned might help or getting into the habit of taking a moment to breathe and really think about what people have said before responding. Just inserting a brief pause will help, I think because it forces the brain to fully engage on what’s being said and how exactly you want to present yourself.

    Reply
    1. Moray

      I’ve sometimes had luck treating work (or other add-a-freakin-filter situations) as theatrical roles. I’m playing someone similar to myself, but more professional and measured. So in meetings I try to remind myself to stay in character as Mr. Work.

      Mr. Work doesn’t make jokes when he’s uncomfortable, he has a good poker face when he’s bored, and most importantly he pauses and thinks before he speaks.

      Reply
      1. Jadelyn

        I joke about it being my “worksona”. I spend 8 hours a day as my worksona, Neurotypical Karen, who loves expense reports, 3-hour meetings, and filing.

        The effect has gotten less pronounced – I’m much more my real self at work these days, but that’s because I’ve been here for 5+ years and am working with folks I’m very comfortable with. And there’s still a certain amount of gloss I do wear, even with the people who know me well. But creating a conscious division between Work Self and Personal Self can help you build the reflexes and habits you’ll need to keep you from blurting stuff out when you shouldn’t.

        Reply
        1. OP

          Someone has suggested trying a more professional Work Self down thread and I now love the idea of trying to create a Worksona :) I have another event coming up and I am determined to not say or do anything embarrassing this time.

          Reply
  3. sheworkshardforthemoney

    I pause, count 1,2,3,4,5 before speaking. That helps a lot but I still say things I shouldn’t.

    Reply
    1. hermit crab

      Another option is to remember W.A.I.T. (“why am I talking?”). I like this a lot but really struggle with real-life implementation!

      Reply
      1. JSPA

        Love this.

        Also, as someone who tends to over-contribute and overthink (yeah, not a secret?), I sometimes visualize those little “turn to speak” cards,” and try to not throw in thoughts until others have spoken (unless it’s to say, “Julie, any reaction you’re ready to toss in?” or “Andrea, you had a great idea along these lines last time, care to bring it forward again?” or some such.

        Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      This is my approach, too. I’m a “process by talking aloud” person, which can really get me into trouble. But if I pause and count to five, my brain catches up with my mouth.

      Reply
    3. smoke tree

      I once received some good advice to pause for a moment and have a drink of water before answering questions in an interview, and I think it applies to any situation where you want to be your most professional self. I’ve also received feedback from interviewers that it makes me seem more confident and thoughtful, so that’s nice too.

      Reply
    4. Not So NewReader

      Adding: While you are counting make it a point to look at people’s faces.

      If you see red, angry cheeks. adjust what you will say.
      If you see someone else about to speak, let them go for it. (You may sound more intelligent when you do speak because people will think you are listening to everyone.)

      I can’t tell you how many times taking the additional seconds to look at people’s faces and gestures has saved me from saying the wrong thing.

      Reply
  4. animaniactoo

    Honestly, I haven’t found a better way through than continually stumbling through it and figuring it out as I went.

    Mostly, it’s that every “whoops!” moment feeds the list of “be on alert about doing this” – but by “this”, I try to frame that as the big picture: “Speaking negatively on professional issues” vs “speaking negatively about sponsor companies”. Sponsor companies is just too narrow to help me quickly fight back my foot-in-the-mouth disease.

    Reply
    1. animaniactoo

      Oh, I did think of one thing! It sometimes helps me to think of myself not as “me”, but as “representative of company”. It helps create a different mindset where I seem to find some more natural boundaries around what’s too casual/personal/off-limits.

      Reply
      1. BookishMiss

        Yes, I’m in customer service, and work me Does Not Have Opinions. That’s kind of harshly overstating it, but it really does help. My industry is so highly, venonously politicised that opinions are dangerous things, so I’m just a friendly, factual company puppet while I’m here.

        Reply
        1. OhNo

          Oh, yes. I was trying to think of what I usually do and you’ve nailed it. I’ve worked in customer service so long that I can almost automatically switch from OhNo, normal human being, to OhNo, Company Representative.

          Company Representative OhNo always parrots the company line, never uses sarcasm, is always happy to help, and doesn’t have opinions on anything. I have a Customer Service voice, a Customer Service smile, and an almost completely separate set of mannerisms. It’s kind of like people mentioned above about having a work persona, except it’s exclusively for dealing with customers and people outside my department.

          Which is all very well and good, but I have no idea how one would go about deliberately developing such a thing. Mine just kind of slowly developed over years of working with the public, so I don’t know if it’s just time-and-practice, or if you can build one intentionally.

          Reply
          1. BookishMiss

            I definitely think it’s possible to build one intentionally, but mine also kind of grew organically over time. I also had a fantastic manager in a past life who helped me craft Miss Company Representative instead of Miss Self. Miss Rep is still fun and friendly and personable, but my goodness, she Does Not Have her own opinions in the general vicinity of anyone but her immediate co-workers.
            Except today. There was an opinion today. But it was about dogs and unrelated to the work, so it was all good.

            Reply
        2. JSPA

          Ah yes. I’ve used, “this is not the time nor place for me to have any further opinion on this topic, near to my heart though it may be.” If anyone wants to search me out in some other circumstance, they can then do so.

          Reply
      2. Wantonseedstitch

        I’ve found that since I took on a management role, it makes me more likely to pause and ask myself before speaking if I really want to say the thing I’m thinking, because I have to set a good example for my reports. This is particularly true with negative stuff, as I don’t like to spread negativity downwards. I think that thinking about the example you’re setting and how what you say might affect others is a good way of making you pause to check yourself before you open your mouth.

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          I was just talking to a friend and I said one thing I have considered is how do my words sound if someone else repeats them.
          “Gee, officer, my boss, NSNR, said it would be okay to do this!” Where “this” is a grey area thing.

          Or worse yet:
          “But, Judge! My cohort, NSNR, said x would be alright if we did y.” [I was making a joke there, Your Honor!]

          Don’t despair, OP. This is a useful skill to develop. You may find yourself using it in your personal life where you have to have a serious conversation with your plumber who overcharged you or a lawyer who is helping you with a complex matter. I call it developing a presence of mind. Where I am focusing on the current thing and I am taking in exactly what is being said. I end up with a better read on the situation.

          I have also concluded that this is something we refine and expand for all of our lives.

          Reply
  5. Franny

    I often have an actual friend colleague I can dump this on in a side convo, or I dip for a second to text it to a colleague friend, if there isn’t one at the event. I also have just become known for saying what I mean in my field, and it isn’t a bad reputation. It is possible to find balance.

    Reply
    1. boo bot

      Seconding both of these! I also have a natural tendency to just say what I think, and overall it’s served me well. Thinking back to how I learned to temper it (because it does need to be tempered) I think making horrifying, cringe-inducing gaffes was an important part of my process ;)

      Hopefully the OP can learn without that. In addition to having someone to text (even if it’s a note to yourself) I would suggest thinking out the whole sentence before you say it – so, don’t just have an idea of what you’re going to say, ‘say’ it in your head.

      I’ve found that this one weird trick! does two things: it helps me hear what I’m about to say while there’s still time to take it back, and sometimes – especially if I’m trying to be funny – it satisfies my urge to comment on the situation, and I don’t feel like I need to say it out loud. If you’re prone to attempting humor in public, it will serve you extremely well to learn to be your own best audience.

      Reply
      1. Olivia Mansfield (formerly Mallory Janis Ian)

        “I would suggest thinking out the whole sentence before you say it – so, don’t just have an idea of what you’re going to say, ‘say’ it in your head.”

        Seconding this. How many times have I started out with a vague idea that I’m going to say something, and then three words into the sentence, it’s like my mouth is falling down the stairs while I watch in horror?

        Reply
        1. BethDH

          “It’s like my mouth is falling down the stairs while I watch in horror” –> I have never in my life so strongly identified with a statement. I’m hoping the whole-sentence approach will work for me too, though my problem is less the specific content and more the short statement that somehow comes out as a marathon.

          Reply
    2. Samwise

      Just be careful about who you send it to…Really, really careful. It’s one thing to say something inappropriate to someone in a situation where they may just forget it. Quite another to email it to your department or boss …where it will live forever, documented.

      Reply
  6. londonedit

    I try to remind myself to listen properly to the conversation, wait until someone has finished speaking, and then if I have a thought, I’ll pause for a couple of seconds and ask myself ‘Is this REALLY contributing to the discussion?’

    It stops my natural inclination to jump in with some ‘Oh, me too…’ story that just makes it look like I’m trying to turn the conversation round to myself, and it also stops my natural ‘Say what you think’ tendencies! It doesn’t always work – sometimes with friends I’ll let my guard down – but in work situations I make a real effort to try to remember to just pause and check whether what I’m about to say is actually interesting, helpful or relevant.

    Reply
    1. ursula

      Yeah, my best progress with this problem (as someone who has Opinions and also Jokes, unfortunately) has been training myself to just talk less, especially in group meetings/settings. I think some of this is about security – I have reached a point where I don’t so much feel the need to constantly prove that I am smart and funny, especially among colleagues who already know me. I’ve become a much better contributor to meetings by adopting the policy that I will only speak up when my opinion/information/insight is truly necessary. Usually it’s not! And I still contribute a lot! But I’m not derailing or being too cute about it, which is where I used to get into trouble.

      I actually feel good now when I’m holding back a bit, watching the conversation, and only speaking up when I see a strategic necessity (either for my own goals or for the organization).

      Reply
    2. Southern Yankee

      So much this! The active listening trick of focusing on the current speaker rather than just waiting for them to stop talking so you can get your comment in helps me in these situations. Also, I tend to be pretty talkative naturally, so making myself justify a comment in my own mind before I make it slows me down enough to avoid a gaffe. Does this add value to the conversation or do I just want to get my random/funny/cute thought in there?

      Reply
      1. College Career Counselor

        I’m an Opinions & Jokes person, too. Helps to know your audience, and maybe not go for every single opportunity. I’ve said this before here (adopting it from another commenter, I believe), but one strategy I’ve used is asking myself three questions:

        Does this need to be said?
        Does this need to be said right now?
        Does this need to be said BY ME?

        Reply
        1. Jadelyn

          I think that originally came from a standup comedian or something? But I remember that, and it’s been a very helpful set of questions to decide whether or not to proceed on something I want to say – and not just in work situations.

          Reply
          1. KC

            Yes, this was a bit by Craig Ferguson, in the comedy show “Does This Need to be Said?”

            I find it very helpful in both my professional and personal life.

            Reply
        2. That Californian

          Yes yes so useful! I also frequently add “Does this person need to know [fact] about me?” I worked previously at a job where people brought their whole selves to work, and it caused a lot of problems, so I’ve retrained myself that people don’t really need to know about romance/activities/opinions/family/medical stuff until and unless they have crossed into full friend territory, and even then not at work. I do talk about my dog a lot, so I don’t seem like a robot, but remembering that people don’t need to know about my personal life has cut way down on potentially inappropriate comments from me.

          Reply
        3. All monkeys are French

          Similarly, there are the three gates of speech (allegedly Buddhist) that thoughts should pass through before you say them out loud:
          Is it true?
          Is it necessary?
          Is it kind?

          It’s a wonderful exercise, but one I struggle to perform!

          Reply
          1. Hepzibah Pflurge

            OT, but made me smile in this (seemingly endless) day…your handle reminded me of the Eddie Izzard standup special in which he riffs on the fact that the practical applications of many language classes is…questionable. “La singe est sur la branche!”

            Reply
            1. Snarktini

              I love that bit from Izzard! The way he uses callbacks is always great, but this one really cracks me up. I showed the special to my BF but he didn’t find it that funny…but then again he often doesn’t find things as hilarious as I do, plus he never studied French. So I think he was at a disadvantage.

              Reply
          2. pancakes

            I’d love to know where “allegedly Buddhist” came from, as I’ve studied comparative Buddhist meditation traditions and have never encountered that in any of them. Quick research suggests it’s from 1960s-80s radio host Bernard Meltzer.

            Reply
    3. 30 Years in the Biz

      Yes! It’s taken me many years to use this approach/mindset, but it works for me. I think being quiet and a good listener at work can do more for your reputation than constantly inserting yourself into conversations with information that doesn’t really enrich the discussion.

      Reply
    4. The New Wanderer

      This is also something I’m working on. Unfortunately, it can be undone very quickly if I have any combination of: a friendly group, a glass of wine, and an amazingly funny kind of related story I just remembered. But I do try to shake myself out of the “wait for your turn, then pounce!” mode and just be a listener in the conversation for a while. Also trying to get better about redirecting back to the previous topic or speaker and shutting myself up if I realized I went off on a tangent.

      Reply
      1. ursula

        Massive sympathy. My fatal combo is nerves + people I find impressive but don’t personally know + a topic I have been thinking about recently. I have stopped allowing myself to have wine in situations where more than one of those factors is likely to be present, because yikes. We’re all works in progress :)

        Reply
  7. anonymizeme

    More than 15 years ago, I had a wonderful boss and a terrible colleague. I was young and did not yet understand professionalism. The wonderful boss asked me to be more diplomatic with the terrible colleague, and we put a coded sign above my desk to remind me. The rewards from this wonderful boss (things he was able to teach me and perks he was able to get for me – all appropriate!!) were endless and I still have the sign. When you understand the benefits of professionalism, it becomes a goal rather than a chore.

    Reply
    1. Mrs_helm

      That’s a great idea. And if we’re talking about going to meetings or conferences, maybe a ring or bracelet or watch that you only wear for these. Something that you will be aware of while wearing it.

      Reply
  8. Rey

    My boss has really led by example in this area. When we are doing a one-on-one post-mortem after a larger meeting, she has shared some topics and people where she knows to just let the discussion happen and that she doesn’t need to step in. So make yourself a list: what things do I not need to respond to? And give yourself an action that you should do instead when those things come up, maybe writing a particular phrase on your notepad or something else that wouldn’t be noticeable to those around you. I’m also going to guess that some of the things you regret saying the most are snarky comments that don’t contribute to the task or purpose at hand. But remind yourself that if your thought is important and you don’t share it in the moment, you can give yourself time to think it through and then follow-up with an email or drop by someone’s office later. I hope this helps

    Reply
    1. Code Monkey, the SQL

      I like this idea! Having a list of things that you give yourself permission to not engage on also frees up conversational bandwidth for other people, which can make you a better networker over all.

      Reply
    2. Southern Yankee

      I agree that it can be helpful to realize that if a comment is worth making, you will generally have a chance to add it in a moment or two and you won’t forget it. That gives you time to check in with your brain that it isn’t a problem or is worded professionally without worrying you will
      miss your chance to speak.

      Reply
  9. Important Moi

    This will sound harsh. Stop thinking of these people as friends. They are professional associates. Full Stop.

    I realize people may come at me for saying that, but being in the “friends” mindset hasn’t helped.

    Reply
    1. CR

      I am definitely guilty of this – thinking of work associates on friendly terms and therefore speaking freely, the way I would around friends I trust. It comes back to bite you.

      Reply
      1. Amethystmoon

        Yes, that’s a good way to think of it. Also, don’t complain about coworkers to other coworkers. It will come back to haunt you. Use people outside work only for that or find a website to do it anonymously on and don’t name names.

        Reply
        1. Setting Myself Back A Decade

          The number one sign of dysfunction in my current office is that everyone from the C-suite on down feels completely free to complain about coworkers (and bosses) (and employees), almost always behind their backs. I catch myself doing it and I know it’s something I have to curtail before I go back to a real-boy grown-up job with adults doing adult things.

          I know there’s a certain amount of venting that happens even in healthy offices. This is well past that.

          Reply
          1. boxfish

            This is absolutely what my workplace is like too, as well as my previous job. I suppose it can’t be like this at every workplace, but it sure feels like it. It’s very hard not to get sucked in to it when it’s the norm.

            Reply
        2. That Girl From Quinn's House

          Yes, with the exception that this is how Missing Stairs are created. Sometimes, you need to compare notes.

          Reply
        3. TardyTardis

          I got a really great compliment once–our regular printer was in pieces as Our Beloved Repairman was working on it, so we had to use a printer waaaaaaay down the hall. I kept my mouth shut as I went back and forth to fetch various jobs, and was told by the front desk, “you’re the only one who doesn’t whine as you walk by us.” I replied, “hey, more steps!”. But there was nothing I could do about the old printer–except possibly shoot it–and indeed, I did get lots more steps that day.

          Reply
    2. Nope nope nope

      I’m pretty sure the OP knows WHAT needs to be done, what they’re asking for is advice on HOW to do it.

      Reply
      1. Mikasa

        This is advice on how. Important Moi was saying that viewing your coworkers as colleagues instead of friends helps. Advice: Don’t think of coworkers as friends you can speak freely to.

        Reply
    3. stk

      I have the problem that some of my colleagues have become genuine friends – people I do social things with outside of work. I have tried really hard to make sure I only allow that to happen with people who are outside of my direct sphere, so nobody who I manage or who manages me, but this was a side effect of the friendships that I hadn’t anticipated!

      Reply
    4. Judgment day

      Depending on your industry, you may already be doing some of this, but I’m wondering if you’re in a casual-dressing/acting industry that makes blurring the lines between personal and professional easier. I am, and I used to blur boundaries more than I do now…and I learned the hard way that it’s not a good idea.

      I think it helps to create a professional persona for yourself and think of that person as slightly different than your “friends & family” self. Create a series of cues that you associate with your work persona and your personal life persona and don’t mix them. For example, Work Susan wears blazers; Friend Susan wears t-shirts. Work Susan has a pie-chart background on her computer; Friend Susan has photos of a visit to the beach. Start to associate your Work persona with your visual cues, and think of it as a personality costume that you can take on and off.

      Reply
      1. Nope nope nope

        I love this advice! This could help someone like me (and maybe the OP too) “retrain my brain”.

        Reply
    5. Dust Bunny

      I was just going to suggest this, too. It’s easy to get too comfortable at work. Not that you shouldn’t be generally comfortable, but it needs to have limits.

      Reply
    6. Sailor Motormouth

      This is so true. At my first job, the company prided itself on being FUN and QUIRKY and ANTI-CORPORATE.
      It wasn’t unheard of for people to end up married to colleagues, live together as friends, stand in each other’s weddings, etc.

      It was great! Until I accidentally said an expletive in a microphone at a conference streamed to over 10,000 people.
      It haunted me for years until I left.

      Now that I work in a historically bureaucratic, stuffy industry, it’s done leaps and bounds for my ability to keep my stupid mouth shut because there’s such a distinct separation between “work” and “personal” me.
      I am friendLY with my coworkers but I would hardly classify any of them as friends. Having that stark schema change between personal and professional worlds makes it easier to develop that professional behavior mindset because there’s less gray area than my previous employer.

      Reply
    7. Larry Nyquil

      I can’t agree more. A lot of problems arise not only in this subject, but also with work/life balance, when you start treating colleagues as friends. I’m not saying you CAN’T be friends with colleagues, but don’t automatically treat them as such.

      Reply
    8. Anastasia Beaverhousen

      This is definitely true, though. Even in a relaxed, friendly office environment, there needs to be boundaries. Your boss is not your friend – they can’t be. Your colleagues could be – but that doesn’t mean they are.

      In some ways it’s like being on a first date, or meeting the in-laws for the first time, or (…insert scenario here); you’re not always going to be as forthright and casual as you are with good friends. Sometimes you’re putting forward the version of yourself that you want these particular people to see.

      Reply
    9. Candace

      I’ve been known to go into some situations recitingsilently to myself “These people are not your friends.” It helps.

      Reply
  10. Amber Rose

    I not only do this, I tend to misread the room and say something that is poorly received. I wish I knew where the boundaries were. Why is saying something one way OK and but saying it slightly different not? Why can I be quote unquote mean to some people but not to others?

    Since I still haven’t figured that out, all I can do is bring back my old, abused retail cashier Mask of Perfect Serene Professionalism ™. That means, carefully cultivated Polite Smile. A certain selection of pre-fabricated Professional Responses. Basically, just settling back into that old feeling of “you even say something as controversial as “no” and you can expect to be in big trouble.”

    I only do this when I really, really need to watch my ass. Other times I just apologize and try to move on.

    Reply
    1. Judgment day

      If you’re having a hard time reading the room, can you talk it over with someone who’s been at the company longer than you? Like, why is it okay when people poke fun at George but not at Ben?

      Hearing the answer can really illuminate something about your company. Is George more self-confident and self-deprecating and people are only making fun of him for something he’s already pointed out about himself? Or are people targeting George because he’s low-status and people know he won’t defend himself (aka they’re bullies)? One social environment is very different from others.

      Reply
      1. Amber Rose

        But in my case it’s more like, why is it OK for other people to make fun of George, but when I say the same thing only slightly differently I am told to find kinder wording?

        Example: Someone says “Tell George that there’s no form to fill out for being stupid.”
        And I shrug and say “yeah, like the old saying, I can’t fix stupid.”
        And that’s appalling.

        I don’t get the difference?

        Reply
        1. LovebyLetters

          There may be a difference and there might not be one — but workplace environments aren’t generally places for absolute fairness. My wife struggles with this a lot, and I’ve been struggling with trying to get her to understand — sometimes there’s a why and sometimes there’s not. Regardless of that, you may find yourself in a situation where you just plain have to be better than those around you.

          If the cues you’re getting are that you telling a joke is inappropriate, don’t do it. Even if someone else does. Even if someone else does it and gets away with it. Fairness doesn’t really matter here; your ultimate success does.

          Reply
        2. Sailor Motormouth

          It might be completely dependent on your relationship, real or perceived, with George.

          It’s kind of like the playground rules with siblings – “I can make fun of my brother, but if you make fun of my brother I’ll punch you in the head.”

          Reply
          1. Amber Rose

            Doesn’t seem like it. I get along better with him than my boss does. She thinks he’s an idiot. I think he’s a goofball.

            Reply
        3. scorpysuit coryphefuss arterius

          FWIW, in the above example, several things stand out to me:
          – – “Being stupid” versus “fix stupid.” “Being stupid” suggests it’s a mode that George sometimes slips into, that anyone else may also slip into, not a fixed aspect of his specific personality. “Fix stupid” sounds more as though “stupidity” is an essential aspect of who George is as a person.

          – “There’s no form to fill out” also produces a distancing or diluting effect. George isn’t as closely associated with “stupidity” as a key trait. “Can’t fix stupid” more closely associates George with that perceived trait.

          – “I can’t fix stupid” makes it sound more like George’s error is inconveniencing you personally, and that you would “fix” this about George if you could. “There’s no form” makes it sound like the commenter is taking George’s mishaps less personally.

          But more to the point, I think the best thing to do in professional contexts – really, in all contexts – is to avoid using the word “stupid.” At best it’s unhelpful, and may make you look less professional. At worst, it unintentionally (hopefully unintentionally) helps perpetuate ableist stigma regarding learning differences and other neurodivergences.

          Alternates include: ill considered, reckless, rash, unreasonable, irrational, mistaken, unwise, etc.

          Reply
          1. Amber Rose

            His error was related to me, because my entire job is actually to “fix” the way things work so people aren’t harmed. He caused an incident I chose not to report because I don’t know how to report “George did a thing he knew was stupid to see if it was actually stupid and hurt himself.” What is the preventative measure there? I can fix broken processes and broken materials. I literally can’t fix stupid.

            I did alter my choice to “I can’t fix ridiculous.”

            Anyways I watch my tongue now and say basically nothing about anything. It’s fine for everyone else to curse and insult and threaten each other but not for me. Fine. I prefer to know the whys of things, but I can still change even if I don’t know.

            Reply
            1. Rebecca1

              I have been in your exact situation before. I solved it by refraining from making any of those types of jokes or criticisms or anything like that, no matter how much my colleagues did. Eventually, everyone told me that I was the nicest person in the office and the only one they really trusted, and I earned a reputation for being “great to work with,” which is very helpful on references.

              Reply
              1. TardyTardis

                I did this for years, too (not speaking ill of anyone) *after* I realized my boss was never going to change and pointing out problems was not going to work, and things went right well after that.

                Reply
            2. Rebecca1

              Oh, when I need to report people doing stupid things, I use the show-don’t-tell writing trick. “George balanced a ladder on top of a unicycle and began to climb the ladder. He fell off and sprained his ankle. He said he did this in order to find out what would happen.”

              Reply
              1. Not So NewReader

                Bingo. Just factually restate the sequence of events.

                If you read what Rebecca1 wrote here you can see that it’s clearly a poor choice on George’s part. And it needs no further explanation to the reader.

                Some things are so blatantly off the wall that you do not have to explain WHY they are off the wall. The story of what happened does that for you.

                Reply
        4. Not So NewReader

          Just a general rule of thumb, if someone is already jumping on a person, don’t add to it. If you agree, just silently nod to acknowledge that the situation is outlandish.

          In this particular case, they could have been surprised because you seem to like George. So this wasn’t so much about what you said, but more about how it did not fit with other times when you defended him.
          I dunno, just guessing.

          One thing you can do is look for patterns, such as who is making the correcting comments. If it’s just a couple people, try to figure out if they are friends with each other. This would narrow down the size of your concern. And it would give you the heads up, “Jane and Bob are the two who feel the most need to correct me at every turn.”

          Some of it could be because you are more junior than them or it could be because you are younger than them. You can’t really fix these types of problems EXCEPT for rocking your job. If you are known for doing a great job, you can buy yourself some slack sometimes.

          Is there a friendly person at work who would mentor you on the culture of the place? Knowing background/history can help with some things.

          You may work with people who just enjoy being critical of others. Or you may need to find kinder wording. I really can’t tell. I have read many of your posts here and I think of you as a kind person. It’s possible that these people are not happy unless they are complaining about something. To check this one out, watch how they treat others and let that be your gauge. You could find out that Jane and Bob are always telling other people how to behave or how to think.

          Reply
        5. Eliza

          I think sometimes when someone makes a joke that they know is a little out of line, the response they’re expecting is along the lines of amused chastisement: you know, “haha, oh, that’s awful”. Being met with agreement instead can leave them a bit wrong-footed and feeling the need to take it back.

          To see if that’s what’s going on here, I’d suggest you look not just at the jokes other people are making but at the details of how other people react to them.

          Reply
          1. Gunney

            Yeah, like they poked you and then you punched them back. You kind of escalated it by agreeing.

            That said I don’t know I would have said either of those lines myself, and if someone called someone else, or something they did stupid, I would probably try to awkwardly laugh it off or downplay it with “well it wasn’t on purpose” or something, because neither of those are appropriate in my workplace.

            Reply
        6. Allonge

          Timing and tone are possible things that explain why something is perceived much worse that another. Everyone runs into this once in a while!

          Reply
    2. smoke tree

      I find it incredibly tempting to say snarky things about ridiculous people I encounter at work, and I’ve been working hard to try to channel Rachel Maddow. I really admire her restraint–as well as her ability to make her feelings known without saying anything overt.

      Reply
  11. Phil

    Just ask yourself if what you’re about to say is kind. I know kindness may not be a business attribute but it works. I have a pretty sarcastic sense of humor which can come off as unintentionally unkind. So I just started myself if I what I was about to say was unkind. If it was I didn’t say it.
    Try it. It works!

    Reply
    1. J.

      Agreed. I also try to make it a policy not to say things about other people/organizations/etc (professionally AND personally) that I’d be embarrassed or feel bad about if it got back to them. If I’m about to say something less than flattering, I ask myself, “Would I say this to the person’s face?”

      Maybe I would even though it’s a little snide, and that’s ok. But at least it gives me a second of pause, and I don’t have to worry about whether I trust the person I’m talking to or if my comment will get out or any of that.

      Reply
    2. LovebyLetters

      I love this. I try to remember the mantra of “Is it kind, is it useful, and is it true?” Hard to recall in the moment, but so important.

      Reply
    1. Dasein9

      This is true, of course.

      But now I’m picturing a meeting where nobody speaks at all. (And not the Quaker kind!)

      Reply
  12. TotesMaGoats

    Oh this is me. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better about only speaking up when I really need to but I still say dumb stuff from time to time. Like yesterday when I said I wanted to “sell off the tables (a report I run, big deal thing) to gypsies”. FACEPALM. It went over fine but there was no way to correct the comment in the meeting. I even tried to change what I was saying but nothing came to mind. Now, of course, I should’ve said circus. Sigh.

    I still remember a comment in my high school year book that said something along the lines of “stay cool but you say too much”. Yeah. That sticks with me even though this has been a long work in process.

    Reply
  13. Jennifer

    Oh, I have done this too. I know how you feel. Sometimes I overcorrect and come off standoffish to people, which isn’t good either. One thing that helps me is to prepare. It sounds weird but if you know who is going to be there, like Jim from Accounting who always whips out his phone to show off pictures of his kids, think of some appropriate responses, instead of being like me and saying, “She’s so interesting-looking.” Yes, I know. It’s horrible. I meant it as a compliment but I think people took it as code for “yo’ baby is ugly.”

    Taking a second to think before you speak helps. Sometimes I feel an urge to respond right away and put pressure on myself to do so. If someone asks you a question, you can say, “Hmm, give me a second to mull that over,” or something along that line.

    I’m still a work in progress.

    Reply
  14. Queen_of_Comms

    I struggled with this so much during my early years.

    This might sound crazy, but I created an alter-ego for myself: Professional Queen of Comms. What does Professional QoC look like? Professional QoC thinks before she speaks, holds her posture upright, focuses her attention on the speaker, takes notes as needed, etc. When I’m entering a situation where I know I need to be “on guard”, I play the role of Professional QoC.

    This helped because I never felt like I needed to change who I was. I’m proud of the person I am and my personality serves me well in less-professional and social environments. When I step out of those hyper-professional situations, I shed the alter ego like a coat and go back to being myself.

    This might not work for everyone! But it has helped me immensely over the past few years.

    Reply
    1. Lana Kane

      Yes! I do something similar. I emulate my grandfather, who was career military . He had a calm, confident demeanor that commanded respect just based on how he carried himself. He was a warm man, but in situations like these, it was very much a “professional level” warmth – just enough to seem kind to others, but not enough to start getting into his off-duty self. So I think of myself as on-duty, channel him, and I really think it’s worked.

      I also have learned that listening more, talking less, is a great skill to have. It keeps my mouth in check, but I also pick up on more things by being more observant.

      Reply
    2. Anon right now

      Me too! I was called out by my boss kind of early on for my tone of voice and decided it was time to create a work version of me. Work-me never uses sarcasm, never curses, mostly just doesn’t tell jokes since life-me jokes are usually dry sarcastic humor…
      I did have to practice and really develop the work-me persona, but it absolutely helped with the inadvertent stuff.

      Reply
    3. Miss May

      I do this too! I worked in retail for a LOOOONG time before going into a professional workplace, and honestly my “retail persona” has really helped me control what I say. Retail-me is a lot more happier, and helpful than regular-me.

      Reply
      1. Dragoning

        I wish I could do this. I definitely have a “Retail voice” but frankly even there a lot of people thought I was frosty/rude for no reason I could discern.

        Reply
    4. Data Analyst

      Strongly agreed. I do a similar thing, and emphasize the part about attention on the speaker. I find that if I make listening my number one priority, I am much less likely to be thinking of quips.

      Reply
    5. Kimmy Schmidt

      I do this too! I’ll even remind myself out loud sometimes that I am currently Work Kimmy Schmidt. Work Kimmy is great at controlling her facial expression, remaining calm and collected, asking questions when needed and refraining from adding extraneous comments when not.

      Reply
    6. OP

      I really like this idea! I was wondering whether to try and imagine I was one of my super professional colleagues but actually a more professional alter ego would be better. I think one of my issues is that I get very nervous talking to strangers and nervousness with me turns into flustered chattiness where I do not filter myself like I should.

      Reply
      1. Queen_of_Comms

        I have learned that social awkwardness stems from excessive self-awareness. I’m aware that I am a living creature who can do anything at any moment, including jumping up on the table, ripping my shirt off, and screaming at the top of my lungs in the middle of a meeting. That means I could just as likely say the wrong thing as the right thing. So when I’m talking to another person, instead of listening to them, I’m thinking about how I should respond, what I should say, what shouldn’t I say, do I have something in my teeth, and OH GOD, what did they just say?

        This means that you’re never fully paying attention and when it’s time to talk, you kind of just blurt out whatever word soup is sloshing around in your brain at that moment. At worst, this is the Wrong Thing to Say and at best, it’s mediocre mumbo jumbo.

        The only way to fix this is by learning to listen. Not listen as in hearing words, but listen as in processing what the other person is actually saying. This is tough because it requires you turn off the self-analyzing portion of your brain and to only pay attention to the other person. If you can master the art of listening, you’ll be taking the focus off yourself and putting it onto the other person, allowing you to respond naturally, clearly, and purposefully.

        Alter egos also help. When I’m feeling awkward, lame, flustered, or socially dumb, I pretend I’m Angelina Jolie. :)

        Reply
      2. Not So NewReader

        Planning what you will say for recurring situations WILL definitely help with this.
        I used to use my ride home to review the day. What did I say that I liked and will keep? What did I say that was totally foolish and needs to be reworked? I’d just pick a couple things for each question. But I did this every day.

        I found the review on the way home did help me to level myself off over time.

        The one-off situations are tougher. But I found I could draw on what I had learned from the recurring situations to handle the one-off situations.

        Reply
  15. Celeste

    It’s really hard to control the impulse, and I think we’ve all blurted out things we wish we hadn’t. I certainly have!

    I think it helps me to not jump in the fray, and want to be the first one to say something. That is kind of the root of it for, to be able to get credit. I have had to work on myself to accept that I can always refine what I want to say and go back to the person later if I think what I have on my mind is something that will be helpful *to them*. I think that in the moment I’m only thinking about myself, and that’s the real problem.

    Reply
    1. KTB

      YES. I identify with this impulse so hard. I definitely want to be seen as The Person Who Knows Things, and that doesn’t always end well. I’ve learned in my current role that listening and learning is so much more valuable than adding needless filler to a conversation.

      And active listening too. My boss has an uncanny ability, even on a conference call when she can’t see me, to ask a question at the exact moment that I have spaced out, even if I’ve been listening intently to the entire rest of the conversation.

      Reply
    2. Not So NewReader

      This is also very helpful to decide to use one-on-one conversations more often and have less reliance on group conversations.

      Reply
  16. Countess Boochie Flagrante

    One of the things I do is think through the full statement I want to make and picture the way I expect people to respond before I speak up. Explicitly asking myself ‘what do I want to say and how do I anticipate people responding’ can really help put the brakes on indiscreet statements.

    It does mean I sometimes miss the opportunity to say something that might have been fine… but if it was something important, then it’s okay to speak up later, after due consideration, and say “Getting back to X…”

    Reply
  17. Czhorat

    The biggest thing for me is to slow down. I’m the typical fast-talking New Yorker, but in some professional settings I have trained myself to speak more slowly, with deliberate pauses. This give more time to think if I should speak, and gets me into less trouble.

    You almost need to cultivate a different personal; when I’ve taken business calls from home, my children have remarked that I have my “work voice” on. How to create that secondary persona is hard to put into words, but it’s something you need.

    Reply
  18. Joielle

    I have a tendency to do this in INTERVIEWS, which is not great. I have a bit of a self-deprecating sense of humor, and in trying to connect with interviewers, I’ve said some things that don’t present myself in the best light. I have not yet figured out how to rein it in without being weirdly formal. Luckily, I’ve interviewed with people who seem to appreciate my weird personality, and I’ve been reasonably successful in my job searches overall, but I know others have been put off.

    Reply
    1. londonedit

      I’m quite similar, I think – I have a very self-deprecating personality (very much classic British humour) and I can be quite dry and rely heavily on sarcasm. I’ve only had it backfire at work once, thankfully – and I think I’ve become much better at moderating my dryness/sarcasm at work – but it was a spectacular backfire and massive personality clash with a particular person who wasn’t my direct boss, but who was the wife of the company owner as well as being employed as a manager at the company. I remember we were at a lunch together, she asked me something, I replied and she got this LOOK on her face and said, very abruptly, ‘I can NEVER tell whether you’re serious’. I mean, on the one hand she was a pretty difficult person to deal with in general (everyone in the company thought that) but on the other hand it did make me pause and think hang on, maybe this whole sarcastic humour thing doesn’t always come across as I’m intending it to.

      Reply
  19. ThatGirl

    Last year I had a very tumultuous week at work where my main coworker was out sick, my manager (who I really liked) left abruptly and a new person I had to train started on the very same day and it was all just a LOT. I got through the week as best I could but at one point I joked a little with the new person about being glad they hadn’t run screaming from the building – something like that. I’d also been talking perhaps a little loudly with a different coworker about my manager leaving and that I wasn’t interested in her position – my voice tends to carry more than I realize sometimes. It wasn’t horrible but was perhaps a little indiscreet.

    Later my temporary manager told me I’d, well, been indiscreet and I was MORTIFIED. So I definitely understand just blurting things out in semi-stressful situations and then regretting it. Mostly my fix has been “pay attention to what and how loud I am saying things”.

    Reply
  20. Blue

    Whenever I say anything I regret, it’s usually because I want to feel important. I spent some time thinking about why I would open my yap and that was my conclusion. Now that I understand that, it’s much easier to check myself.

    Reply
    1. londonedit

      Oh yeah, totally. I have a tendency to be the classic ‘I know! I know!’ overachiever and it’s hard to stop doing that. I’ve been fairly successful at training myself to take a step back and reminding myself that yes, I might well know, but my opinion is not the most important and other people probably have opinions that are just as relevant and interesting. But it is hard.

      Reply
    2. Washi

      Yeah, when I am jumping in to0 much, it’s usually an effort to prove how smart and thoughtful I am. I’ve found I really need to pay attention to when that feeling starts rising in my brain so I can remind myself that if I’m good at something, it will naturally shine through, no need to force it.

      Reply
    3. Lucy

      In this kind of situation, the urge can sometimes be redirected by forcing yourself to ask a question. A good question shows your importance/intelligence/expertise or whatever, AND acknowledges the other person’s i/i/e/whatever AND moves the conversation along. “Do you find that the new regulations are making a difference to your productivity percentages?” kind of thing.

      And that’s an actual question, not a conference-more-of-a-statement-than-a-question!

      Reply
      1. Rose

        Ooh, Lucy I like this! Sometimes I feel like I’m being too know it all but I don’t see someone else bringing it up, so I like the idea of reframing it as a question.

        Reply
  21. becca

    I like Neil Gaiman’s advice for situations like this: “So be wise, because the world needs more wisdom, and if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.”

    If there’s someone you admire on a professional level, at first it might work to just straight up pretend to be them. Not “What would Fergus do?” but “Today I am Fergus, and I behave as Fergus would.” Do that enough to set up a habit, and then you can gradually drop the Fergus-skin.

    Reply
    1. Anonym

      For better or worse, I’ve been asking myself, “What would Varys do?” and it seems to be helping! Not that I intend to [spoiler spoiler spoiler] if it comes to that…

      Reply
      1. TardyTardis

        But it’s a good idea to have lots of little birds who are happy to tell you things! Ok, it’s Twitter…

        Reply
  22. SigneL

    I’m so introverted, I struggle to comment at all. Do I want to say this? Does this dd anything? By the time I go through a list of self-doubting questions, the moment has passed. This probably doesn’t help at all, sorry.

    Reply
    1. Perstephanie

      SigneL, I can really relate. There can be a kind of pressure for introverts to speak, one that people who are more comfortable living their lives out loud may not be aware of. (“Join the group! Tell us your thoughts. Don’t be standoffish.” Etc., etc. People sometimes take note if you’re not following the group norms.) For me, it leads to mutually exclusive demands in my head: “Speak up!” “Don’t speak up!”

      All there is to do, I think, is do your best to navigate between the imperatives . . . and forgive yourself *a lot.*

      Reply
    2. Anonym

      I think you can apply some of the advice from above, but in reverse! Replacing your usual self-doubting questions with those might help. It’s not about YOU, it’s about the piece of information. (I used my mom’s more simplistic advice earlier in my career: make one comment for every 30 minutes of a meeting. So an hourlong meeting meant I had to say at least two things so people knew I was engaged and understood what the heck was going on.)

      Does this need to be said? Yes
      Does this need to be said right now? Yes
      Has anyone else said it yet? (Instead of “Does this need to be said BY ME?”) No
      Then yes! I will say it.

      With that, you probably won’t have to speak often, but when you do speak it will be valuable. That counts for a lot and is likely to stick with people, so instead of “SigneL never talks in meetings” it can become “SigneL said [useful thing]”.

      Honestly, it doesn’t really have to be a great, perfect or even interesting comment. The goal is to remind people that you’re there and you know/care about the topic.

      Reply
  23. Butter Makes Things Better

    Yep, I blurt too, and ugh in work contexts, it repeats on me afterwards endlessly! It helps me to ask myself what impulse I was acting on when I interjected something not so great, e.g. was I anxious and trying to impress someone? Was I trying to fit in more or seem like a cool colleague? For me, hidden motives like that can trip me up, so I try to suss out what hidden motives or fears a work event might kick up and be extra vigilant of my reactions in that context.

    There’s a great acronym for those situations: WAIT — Why Am I Talking? which has also helped me.

    Reply
  24. Jessen

    If it’s ok in your workplace, something like water or coffee can help. Sometimes the act of physically having something that’s going into your mouth can be the slowdown you need. Plus you’ll stay hydrated.

    Reply
  25. SheLooksFamiliar

    I still cringe when I think of some of the things I’ve blurted out over the years. I’m no saint but I trust myself a lot more now. I think what helped was working on this in steps.

    First, I told myself I simply wouldn’t speak out at all. I’d answer direct questions with relevant information and exchange brief pleasantries, but I eliminated all color commentary and side comments. Yes, that meant I policed myself all the time, and I did get some comments about the ‘new SheLooksFamiliar.’ But I thought I needed to break the habit of speaking out with little or no filter.

    Next, I thought about my communication style: what was good, what was neutral, what needed to change? Instead of making blanket statements of, ‘Well, I’ll just keep my mouth shut whenever I’m around So-and-So,’ I went through previous scenarios and thought of what I could have said and what I did well. Sure, I was rehearsing scripts, but this was helpful for me.

    Then I began to carefully reintroduce my side comments but, as Alison said, I was still on guard. I would do a quick review of who was in the room or on the call – CEO? New hire? My boss? A vendor? Colleagues? – and I reminded myself of what was appropriate for the audience. So yes, some of my comments were banal, but definitely non-offensive.

    In spite of what this sounds like, I did NOT obsess over everything I said – and I still don’t. But I felt better once I had a new habit of reserve to trust. I still let my personality show, and I still make side comments. But it’s easier for me to consider the audience first.

    OP, I hope this helps.

    Reply
    1. OP

      Thank you, this is really helpful! I definitely need to take a step back and think about the things I say and how they come across, depending on who is in the room. Making flippant or thoughtless comments is definitely NOT the impression of myself I want to give at work (or of my workplace).

      (In the case of this particular event I’ve thought of about 10 better scripts I could have used in response to the question I was asked)

      Reply
      1. MicroManagered

        I think actually thinking of scripts is good too. As is reading blogs like this one that focus a lot on what would actually be a good/productive way to communicate something. I like the suggestions to stop and think before speaking, count to 5, resolve not to speak unless spoken to in meetings for a while, etc. But none of that helps if you don’t know specific words to use when the time does come to say something!

        Reply
  26. WhoKnows

    I do this ALL THE TIME and it’s like I can’t control it, even though I very much could, if I tried. But it’s one of those things where I don’t realize I’m doing it until it’s too late. I’m excited to see what tips and tricks people might have.

    Reply
    1. TardyTardis

      You can rehearse things while looking in the mirror. You can try on Listening Face, try on I Am Pausing To Think This Over, and so on.

      Reply
  27. Angwyshaunce

    Thinking before you speak is a habit that needs to be practiced. It doesn’t always cross your mind to consciously be careful of what you say, so making it an ingrained subconscious habit is the best way (or at least it was for me).

    Reply
  28. Everything_Is_A_Chemical

    I attend a yearly conference that is really laid back. In fact, most people treat it as a fancy vacation. (Including a lot of alcohol.)

    I personally combat that by keeping my clothes more business like. Instead of my normal polo and jeans, I am in button down shirts/blouses and black slacks. I wear nice shoes.

    I’ve discovered that for me, dressing up a bit actually helps keep me in the professional mindset. I’ve definitely gotten commentary regarding my attire at this event but I also leave people with a great impression. And later in the year, I get lots of calls simply because I stayed professional and it stuck with them. Which is a big deal to me because I am known in my personal life for not exactly having a filter.

    Reply
    1. SpringIsForPlanting!

      I was going to say this! A noticeable (and, honestly, slightly physical uncomfortable) step up in attire helps keep me in the temporary mindset of “this is professional time, I am currently Professional SpringIsForPlanting”). Check out the research on ‘enclothed cognition’ if you’re interested–it’s fascinating stuff!

      Reply
      1. TardyTardis

        Yes! This my Belt of Supreme Confidence, this is my Jacket of Super Professionalism, and so on.

        Reply
  29. LQ

    I’m generally a very …close to the vest kind of person. I have a friend who says that it took over a decade for her to feel like she knew much of who I was at all. Because I generally have a lot of things I hold closely and don’t say the things that I have designated as “public” (rather than “private” or “confidential”) I’ll just say without a lot of consideration. Which isn’t great because…since I do have a reputation for thinking first people assume that the words that just popped out of my mouth I REALLY meant and in that order and with that sly take away. …eh, no, it’s just a thing that holds a public designation in my head. I’ve definitely put notes on the top of my notebook to remind me of the “work persona” I need to be employing and I’ll run through some scenarios before I get into meetings where I need to change the way I say a public thing.

    I do recommend to some folks to at least have some personal/professional settings around public/private/confidential in their heads because being able to recognize where the information you have (which includes your opinions) falls makes it easier to go, “This public data needs to be carefully structured before saying” rather than “I have to be careful when I talk about sponsors at a conference.” At least it’s easier for me to create head structures and rules rather than one offs.

    Reply
  30. gecko

    I think it’s really hard to do this in a negative way, ie “DON’T make jokes about sponsors,” and if possible make it about doing new actions or changing your actions. It’s hard to not think about a pink elephant.

    How to do that? Well, I think there are a couple angles. One is, oddly, to lessen how much you dread making a misstep. So forgive yourself for making that critical comment; in the future, move on quickly instead of digging yourself into a social hole.

    Another angle is to recognize you have the impulse to make these comments and to change how you make them. I realized I was making a lot of self-deprecating jokes a few years ago, and in such a dry way that they were both awkward to listen to and kinda believable. To cut the habit I recognized that I do have the impulse to make jokes about myself, so I amped up the ridiculousness level and made them more positive instead of just squashing that impulse down.

    Basically, you’re going to blurt things, especially when you get tired and you have a drink in you–what are some things you can say instead that fill the same purpose? You were operating as if it were a friends-context instead of a colleagues-context; that kind of critical comment sounds like it could have been an intimacy-builder of sorts. This is what complaints about printers and copiers are for–take that initial impulse and lighten it. Just don’t make it a “don’t think about the pink elephant” situation :)

    Reply
  31. WKRP

    I’ve been an interrupter in the past and I feel like the same issue applies. Now when I’m in conversation with others, I wait a beat or two (think 3-5 seconds) after I think someone is done speaking to be sure they’re actually finished. I think the same method could apply here. Make yourself wait the same amount of time before you initially intended to speak and that will give you time to consider whether you really want to say what you were planning to.

    Reply
  32. Elizabeth

    One of the things that helped me was the THINK acronym test. Before making a comment, apply the following. Is what you are about to say:
    True?
    Helpful?
    Inspiring?
    Necessary?
    Kind?

    Reply
  33. anon24

    I like to pretend that I’m on camera. It helps me to think before I speak. This is actually relevant to me because I’m in a field where I’m often filmed both by the general public and by official sources but I am rarely actually aware that I’m being filmed – it’s better to just act as if I am at all times. I don’t know if this works for you if you don’t ever have someone pointing their camera phone at you but maybe pretend that you are being filmed and will later have to sit down with your boss and watch the tape. It helps to remind the brain to be on guard and comments are less likely to slip out.

    Reply
  34. Ramblin' Ma'am

    I learned a great acronym recently – WAIT: Why Am I Talking?

    As someone who does tend to speak without thinking, and/or speak simply to fill up silences, it’s been a very helpful check!

    Reply
  35. Seifer

    I just watched an episode of Friends yesterday where Phoebe says something and Monica is like, “remember how we talked about saying things quietly to yourself first?” and Phoebe replied, “yes, but there isn’t always time!” Personally I agree with Phoebe, but Monica’s advice is good haha.

    Reply
  36. pleaset

    “Is there a trick to getting this into your brain?”

    1. Practice it, including in non-work, low-stakes situations.

    2. Speak less, and have a goal for things you say, rather than just speaking because you can.

    Reply
    1. AnonMurphy

      Yup I can take all the techniques I want but if my ADHD brain skips that part…I’m lucky to be in a job and industry where I can easily self-correct and smooth over my occasional ‘how did that come out’ mishaps. It’s good to consider, though, that a forgiving environment isn’t doing me any favors for later in my career.

      Reply
  37. Jshaden

    “Talk less, smile more” is a good place to start, but do ignore the next line if you know it :-) I work in an environment where there are definitely different behavior that are acceptable in different settings. Similar to many of the comments above, I have both a “talking with the senior people” and a “talking with outside people” persona that are slightly different from my personal/with my immediate team persona and from each other. It might help to imagine how you would behave with your most proper relative or at your house of worship if you are religious to start developing that more professional persona.

    Reply
  38. The Man, Becky Lynch

    I tend to think of things in terms of “would you say this about someone’s mother?” kind of thing. Most wouldn’t dream of being negative towards a person’s mother [this of course won’t help if you are also critical of mothers ;)]

    I also learned to forgive myself a lot because honestly, it happens to all of us and even though you don’t hear your colleagues slip up in front of you, doesn’t mean they haven’t or don’t do it.

    Be mindful of your words, pausing and thinking before you spit it out has always helped me out. I’ve caught myself plenty of times and just open my mouth to speak and then close it with a smile. I also play the “If I can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” card if I’m with people who I don’t have a close relationship with.

    Reply
  39. Whales

    For me, it’s been about realizing that a lot of my comments like that are when I’ve jumped outside my lane.

    During conversations I’ve started observing myself as if I was an outsider and then I’ve been able to stop myself before I say something that really isn’t appropriate OR is something that needs to be said by someone else in the room. Essentially, just because I have an opinion (and often a correct one!) doesn’t mean I need to voice it.

    The other thing I’m working on is my delivery. I tend to speak hyperbolically and casually and I’m realizing that’s not doing me any favors in meetings, especially with higher ups. So, by polishing up how I speak, I find I can express opinions that may need to be brought up, but have them received much more effectively.

    Reply
  40. Beckie

    Instead of trying to remember where the boundaries are between friends and professional colleagues, have you considered that maybe some of the “indiscreet” comments you would make among friends are also inappropriate in that circle? If you look at it from that angle, maybe you’ll decide that you need to more careful about what you say all the time, not just in a professional setting.

    (I suggest this not knowing how “indiscreet” the comment was, of course!)

    Reply
    1. OP

      I think that’s a very fair comment actually and one I should have a real think about. In this case my indiscreet comment was regarding the terrible ethics of the sponsor company (think similar to Walmart I guess?) which was absolutely inappropriate to mention while representing work. I find it pretty hard to lie which means I often express quite strong opinions when frankly I should probably keep them to myself and remember that being diplomatic is not lying :/

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        You know what is kind of fun to watch is seeing others do their own version of being discreet.
        You will be amazed at what seemingly professional people let out.

        One individual who prides themselves on their professionalism said, “Well, we just have to work around Bob (as in go around Bob) and keep things moving that way.” This person is very inclusive of others. To say we had to work around Bob as if Bob is not there, was a very damning thing for this professional individual to say.

        Another individual who is not as professional but definitely tries, actually rolled his eyes at Bob behind Bob’s back. (Yeah, Bob is just running his own program.)

        My point is that even people who seem to be top notch professionals let stuff out from time to time but we only catch it if we are watching closely. I would have missed the eye roll if I had looked away at that moment. I have never seen this person eye roll anyone, ever.

        Reply
  41. litprof

    I, too, have a tendency to let my guard down perhaps a little too much in professional situations. One of the things that has helped me enormously is to think about my reasons for saying what I’m about to say, and the potential consequences of doing so (not just negative consequences – there could be positive ones as well). Asking myself to reflect on my reasons for speaking and possible outcomes of speaking in a certain way or saying particular things has really helped in situations where I need to be diplomatic or build strategic relationships. It doesn’t always work in casual conversations when there is less time to reflect, but in meetings it has been incredibly productive for me.

    Reply
  42. Awstinite

    When I do this, it’s because I am trying to fit in with a group more than anything else. It’s not that I think other people are friends, really, not that I feel overly casual with them in a boundary-blurring way. More like I’m trying to connect with someone I know and like, but don’t know well.

    So I’ve found some success in the Warm Smile + Repertoire of Innocuous Questions. Asking someone a question, whether a follow-up or subject change, satisfies the connection and relationship-building instinct without me to make a statement that embarrasses me.

    Realish example:
    Colleague: did you see the CEO’s newly decorated office?
    Old me: yeah, those wall hangings are really not my speed. Burnt orange is not a flattering color on anyone.
    (Turns out CEO’s very sweet wife picked them out, and CEO was standing within earshot but out of sight.)
    New me, with follow-up: oh yeah I did, (pause, smile), what do you think of the color scheme?
    Or new me, with redirect: oh yeah I did, (pause, smile), I think the Director got a new blazer in that same autumn color, it’s a great look on her.

    Other such phrases include: interesting!, I hadn’t heard that, that must’ve been tough, etc. Smile warmly, then ASK A QUESTION vs. making a statement. Not 100% effective but it’s gotten much better.

    Reply
  43. Hey Karma, Over here.

    Question your motives for speaking?
    Are you adding something of value?
    Are you trying to be funny/clever?
    Are you blurting?
    You have to look at the times you regret speaking. I bet they all have a common theme.
    If you have to share every idea you have, pause and see if the speaker will get there. If not, add your comment.
    If you think you are the “funny” one, remind yourself that someone else is thinking the same thing and not saying it, so should I?
    If you make critical comments about anyone/anything in a group setting, are you blurting or are you thinking first? If you are genuinely, knee jerk saying, “OMG, of course Client didn’t factor in X! They are the worst.” ya gotta do something. It’s going to happen to everyone once. (Just happened to me last year, with my cube mates. I was like, crap, did I say that out loud. Yes. Yes, you did.) But you have to try to take a deep breath before you say anything. It will let the visceral reaction pass.
    Good luck!

    Reply
  44. Scarlett

    It helped me to think about what was BEHIND the moment where I said something I regretted to see if I could spot a trend. For me, many times it happened because I was tired. In my world, exhaustion = no filter. It also tends to happen to me when someone else starts down the road of gossip/inappropriate comments. That prompted me to be excited that someone else was thinking the same thing, so I joined in and regretted it afterward.

    Once I knew my “triggers,” I found it a lot easier to control. I’m still not at 100%, but now I have strategies I use for each of my two main issue areas. When I’m tired, I forewarn myself not to talk unless I check myself first. (LOVE the WAIT acronym above!) And I have safe comebacks now to protect me from jumping on the bandwagon of non-professional chatter.

    For me, now that my mouth isn’t moving, it evidently has spread to my face. A couple months ago a high-level exec. stopped a large group meeting to solicit my input because “he could tell by my face that I was unhappy about the new teapot build.” Which led me to speak out of turn, which caused me to get in trouble with a different exec. So my current goal is to keep a neutral face even when I have “feelings” about something so that my face doesn’t cause a trigger either. :)

    So maybe for you, a good first step might be to see if you can spot trends, patterns, or triggers that cause you to speak out of turn. Then if you have some sort of pattern, it might be easier to figure out how to respond to those types of situations.

    Reply
    1. Dust Bunny

      This is really, really, good.

      I don’t tend to blurt inappropriate things but I do tend to talk too much when I get nervous. Now I know the “adrenaline rush but not in a good way” feeling that is likely to get me started yammering about something inane, and am better at stopping myself before I bore everyone to death.

      Reply
    2. Grey Coder

      Yes, lots to be learned from looking for trends. I realized that my most egregious blurts were when I was surprised in meetings. Now I try to remind myself before I go in that anything can happen — I might think the meeting is about the new TPS report cover sheet, but Boss might well decide that we should talk about the wax teapot initiative and I should just roll with it.

      I also have problems with my face saying things and had exactly the same experience in a meeting! GrandBoss was presenting with another exec and said something like “Grey, you don’t look happy about this.” I said, “I’m pretty sure what we’re doing is evil.” It was actually evil though, so I have no regrets about that one.

      Reply
  45. Lady Ariel Ponyweather

    I found the more I accepted myself, understood myself and was kinder to myself, the less I blurted things out. Humans are social creatures and we want to fit in. This isn’t a bad thing. The problem is that witty, clever people who make others laugh are seen as the most ‘desirable’ (at least, in my experience). So because I felt I wasn’t up to standard, I would blurt things out rather than take a moment to think. But the more comfortable I became with myself, the more comfortable I was in groups.

    Hope this makes sense, this experience is something I’m still trying to put into words!

    Reply
  46. L.S. Cooper

    I try to write things down, which still accomplishes the effect of expressing whatever thought I had.
    But it’s hard! Especially with ADHD– my ability to hold my tongue is very underdeveloped. (Literally and biologically! It’s not a learning thing, and I can try to compensate, but my brain just… doesn’t do that.)
    I’ve also somewhat accepted my role as “class jester”. As in, I’m educated and generally smart and accurate, but I also tend towards making jokes and being lighthearted. I try to keep it under wraps in important meetings, but personally, I think people need some levity at times!

    Reply
    1. AnonMurphy

      Yes I also use this as part of my persona – I’ve found that allowing the work and personal personas to meld more has the effect of making me come across as more genuine, while perhaps preventing me from advancing to certain roles.

      Agree that my problem is not how to reframe but how to catch the moment before my thoughts spill out.

      Reply
    2. Sharker

      Same team, pals! I’m lucky in that I’m in a relaxed environment where everyone considers me “the life of the office,” but now that I’m in therapy I’m realizing a lot of what I say is less “funny person cracking well-timed joke” and more “ADHD means I’ve already blurted something out before even getting a chance to filter it.” It’s weird to have to view yourself through this different lens: I’m funny because that was the only way my frequent outbursts and interruptions were tolerated, not because I’m just naturally clever and witty, which is what I thought about myself for a very long time. My biggest strategy lately has been to just literally talk less, WHICH IS ALSO VERY CHALLENGING.

      Reply
      1. L.S. Cooper

        I don’t know about you, but I do think my ADHD makes me funnier! My brain goes so fast that I connect things that other people wouldn’t have, which means I often have something to say that’s vaguely useful and metaphorical, but also fairly out of the blue and unexpected, which tends to get a bit of a chuckle.

        Reply
  47. KR

    Oh my God OP when you find out plz share. I’ll be watching this thread. This is a constant struggle for me

    Reply
  48. government worker

    Honestly? Embrace it. I worry too much about what work people think of me and never share my actual opinions because I’m worried it will make me look negative, but I always appreciate when someone says something I wanted to say but didn’t.

    Reply
  49. Nora E

    Is it kind?
    Is it true?
    It it necessary?

    I read that in an advice column once and have tried really hard personally and professionally to stay within those boundaries. It sometimes works especially if I repeat it in my head over and over at work events!

    Reply
    1. Judgment day

      I like this a lot. There are times when it *is* necessary to say something that may be unkind and true…and there are plenty of times when it isn’t necessary at all, and people are simply trying to make themselves look good by putting others down. (Luckily, in my workplace at least, this just tends to make the put-downer look bad.)

      Reply
  50. just trying to help

    Remember to truly listen with the intention of understanding to what was said before you decided to start talking. Are you listening or just waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can start?
    Asking follow up and delving questions instead of making statements can go a long way to helping solve this.

    Reply
  51. Samwise

    I think I’ve posted about this before — but I have had this problem all my life, and have got it under control by working on it for many years. It ain’t easy!

    I have a little sun medallion that I bring to meetings or put in my pocket. Everyone thinks it is just a cute worry-bead kind of thing. In fact, it’s a reminder to me to pause before talking: SUN = Shut Up NOW. Very effective for me.

    Reply
    1. AnonMurphy

      I like the idea of a worry bead that you pull out either preemptively or post-unrehearsed-comment. Shut Up NOW is also a good acronym/mnemonic!

      Reply
  52. Jessica

    Parallel: think about trying to deal with household clutter. I can evaluate a Thing I own and decide whether to keep it: is it useful? Is it decorative? Do I need it? Do I ever actually use it? Is it in good condition? Does it spark joy? Or whatever. But say I apply these rules to each Thing, and I end up with 1000 Things each of which is worthy and joy-inducing… BUT I live in a house with storage capacity for 500 Things. I have a big-picture problem.

    Same in a meeting. Yes, evaluate individual remarks for whether they are kind, funny, constructive, insightful, likely to spark joy among your colleagues, and so on. But if the people in attendance have thought of 300 really terrific remarks that pass all the tests you want to apply, and if it takes a minute on average to make a remark, then the meeting will be five hours long, and chances are nobody wants that to happen. So consider the big picture also.

    Reply
  53. Kelly Kapoor, the Business B

    No advice, but I do this too. All the time. And feel the same about it. You’re not alone, friend.

    Reply
  54. Suspendersarecool

    I’m struggling with this too. One thing that helps is the THANK acronym:

    True
    Helpful
    Appropriate
    Necessary
    Kind

    I have it on a post-it on my monitor to remind myself that everything I say or write has to meet all of those conditions.

    Reply
  55. Polly Hedron

    I literally bite my tongue. The more emotional I feel, the harder I bite. While biting, I think for one minute.
    Would my idea be helpful? Do I have standing and capital to express it?
    • If my idea passes these tests, I consider my wording:
    – If anyone else has already expressed my idea, I start with “I agree with [previous commenter]”, then continue only if I have something to add.
    – If no one has expressed the idea I word the idea even more carefully.
    • If my idea fails these tests, I bite harder.

    Reply
  56. Elenia

    Like others have said, I am a work me and a home me. I was fairly sensitive in my twenties and had my feelings hurt a lot by people who just weren’t thinking and blurted out the first thing in their mind. I was also mocked a lot as a child. It was easy for me not to be that person. I have a handful of people whom I can fully let loose and tell all my jokes to; those are not appropriate for work.
    Plus the Dear Abby Rules apply here to:
    Is it true?
    Is it helpful?
    Is it kind?
    What you are about to say should fulfill two of those.

    Reply
  57. Akcipitrokulo

    OK – the start of this might sound weird, but bear with me.

    I’ve learned a few things through live0action roleplaying (the parlour kind which is basically an extended murder-mystery dinner. Sometimes with vampires). Taking on a different character or personna in various situations can sometimes help.

    From personal point of view it cured my stutter ;)

    But you don’t need to play to get these benefits. It can help to create a different “character”. THere is you, and then there is the professional who you are playing at the events.

    (Echoing comment upthread about using something like a ring or bracelet – for one character, when I moved my watch from left to right wrist, that was my signal I was now in the role of someone else.)

    Basically not being *you* – being you playing the part of *professional you*.

    It might not be your thing, but might help!

    Reply
  58. Anoncorporate

    Despite being a generally quiet person, I have a tendency to do this, because I’m not very adept at navigating social slash work politics when it comes to communication. My main coping mechanism is to speak minimally in professional situations. Normally, I stick to just answering questions that is asked of me, only making positive comments, and engaging in light small talk to seem friendly but not an oversharer.

    Reply
  59. haley

    oh, this is so relatable. I’ve worked at the same company since I was 23 (I’m 28 now) and sometimes I look back on comments I made and absolutely cringe at how naive or tone deaf they sounded. this lesson was hardest for me in chat, actually – the company used to be very small and our slack workspace felt more like a group chat with friends rather than a professional environment. it feels like I blinked and one day our #random channel had over 1000 people in it!!!

    I’m still working on this IRL, but in slack, I probably only send about 30% of what I actually type out. the knee jerk instinct to respond to a quick moving conversation with something witty or pithy was so hard to unlearn but similarly to other commenters I had to start asking myself – is this comment adding to the discussion or just creating noise? also – do *I* have to be the person who chimes in here, or can I trust that someone else will take care of it, and disengage?

    for IRL conversations it’s still a struggle. the bigger of a company we get, the more I learn the lesson over and over that my sense of humor is niche, my communication style is not universal, and I need to spend a lot of time thinking before I speak. (doubly so now that I’m newly a manager.) part of what has helped there for me is learning to be comfortable with silence rather than indulging the need to fill that space with a joke or comment.

    good luck OP!

    Reply
  60. bookends

    I really struggle with this too! In situations where I’m in more of a sit-down meeting, I like to use note-taking to my advantage. (I’m a union rep, so in things like grievance hearings and negotiations, I have to take pretty detailed notes.) Finishing my notes for a few seconds after someone talks gives me time to formulate a response. I’ve even seen my boss re-trace things she’s already written to give herself time to think something over. Even if you’re just doodling or making a note to yourself, it can help you train yourself to be comfortable with a pause between when the other person finishes talking and when you start talking.

    Reply
  61. Quiet Observer

    I am a talker. Sometimes I am overly friendly with folks or share things in tones that are less than professional. I try not to overshare personal info but in terms of being politically aware of the impact of my words…not such a skill.

    Recently, a mentor taught me WAIT. As in, Why Am I Talking? It helps me to pause, think about why I want to say the thing I’m tempted to say, evaluate my goal in sharing this (to make people laugh? to build a relationship? to feel better about myself? to turn the conversation in a different direction?) and then reconsider before I let my thoughts fly. It has helped.

    So next time, take a breath and WAIT.

    Reply
  62. Jordan

    I wonder if the issue is discomfort with silence. He may be trying to fill that silence and talking faster than thinking. I recommend getting comfortable with silence in conversations. Once you are comfortable with that, it will be easier to think before speaking.

    Reply
  63. RandomU...

    My new way of combating my tendency to over speak is to allow myself some code words to use in situations where I might otherwise say something critical. This allows me to say something, without saying what I’m really thinking.

    For instance:
    “Well that was stupid/idiotic/effed up/etc.” turns into “Well that was odd”
    “What a dumb ass” comes out as “That was an interesting choice”
    “OMG are you kidding me!?!” is heard as “Hmm… I feel like that might not turn out as expected”

    Recently I’ve been using the first one “odd” a lot. I find that one conveys a lot without saying anything critical.

    Reply
    1. Lora

      Yeah, this is sort of what I do. I made it into a game to see how far I could under-state things before someone said, “hey, it wasn’t just (subtle description), it was (graphic description)!”

      Of course, now when I say anything very delicately, people know automatically that I mean it was a cluster. But that’s better than saying, “it was a cluster”.

      “That’s NEVER going to work in a million years” > “I certainly hope things work out… (trails off quietly)”
      “Are they completely bonkers???” > “Well, it’s an aspirational idea, isn’t it?”
      “it was a total sh!t show” > “it could have been more excellent”
      “that guy couldn’t find his butt with both hands and a roadmap and we should have fired him years ago” > “bless his heart, he’s certainly been with the company a while hasn’t he?”
      “you dumb fk, you’re going to ruin us all” > “I wish you the best of luck”
      “I completely hate your idea” > “Do you really think so?”
      “You are so dumb, you’re Not Even Wrong” > “Can you provide the raw data / controls you used for this?” or “how did you address complications XYZ?”

      Sadly even these will definitely get you smacked in a company that values deference to hierarchy over objective truth. Of which there are many, until they run out of money.

      Reply
  64. Gerta

    I have come to realise that there are certain situations where I am naturally inclined to say things I later regret. In my case it usually when I meet a new group of people, and nervousness leads me to become talkative and dominate the conversation in a way I wouldn’t normally do. Best case scenario, people think I am confident – but worst case, it’s obnoxious and I can say things that I don’t think about first.

    My default in these situations is now to remind myself beforehand that it’s better to stay silent than say something stupid. I will default to listening rather than talking, and adopting a more reserved persona helps me to think more carefully before I speak. I will still speak up if no-one else is talking (or if I’m asked directly, of course!) – but I give others a chance first, and in doing so, I have time to think about what I’m doing and response appropriately.

    Reply
  65. LaDeeDa

    In some of the leadership assessments I do with people, we look to find out how a person processes information. And it usually boils down to two “styles”; those who think to speak (internal thinkers), and those who speak to think (external thinkers). Often when people are the type to “blurt” things out- they are the people who process information and make decisions through conversation and discussion- the external thinkers. People with this style often struggle with actively listening or “reading the room”, because they are wanting the opportunity to think out loud. They are almost always in that “over-familiar” and “oversharing” category too. Being aware if that is your style can help you greatly.
    One of the quick things you can do to help your pause to choose your words with a bit more care is to keep a pad and pen in front of you and jot down keywords you are thinking. External thinkers are often worried they are going to miss one of their thoughts so they just start talking, but if you jot a few keywords down as someone else is talking, it will capture the biggies so you can stop worrying about that, and it gives you “permission’ to pause.
    My husband falls into this category, and we have had so many conversations over the years when I am shocked at the way too casual things he has said in a business setting. His interactions with people are usually not in a conference room- so the jotting things down trick doesn’t work for him, so he has to remind himself that the people he is meeting with aren’t his friends and things that he can say at home and with friends cannot be said at work– it isn’t ever offensive, it is just like you describe- sort of overly casual. He still struggles with understanding WHY he can’t be that casual with people, but he has accepted my expertise on this and has had enough difficult situations to maneuver out of, that while he doesn’t understand it, he accepts it. He literally has to force himself to pause and count to 10 and asks himself, “too casual?”
    Your best bet is to PAUSE. :)
    And don’t be so hard on yourself, people probably don’t give those things as much thought as you do, and they likely see you as warm, engaging, and welcoming.

    Reply
  66. LaDeeDa

    Last night I woke up at 2:00 am, thinking about a weird/awkarwd/ inappropriate thing I said in 1997.

    Reply
  67. giraffe

    Events are really tricky, especially if they’re the type of events with snacks and drinks and not in the typical “office” setting. You really need to remind yourself that you are still at work, even while chowing down on free wine and mini cheeseburgers (just me?).

    If these type of events are common for you, I’d try a couple of things for the next few: limiting your alcohol intake, and keeping your socializing to peers and anyone lower in the hierarchy than yourself. Once you’ve managed a few happy hours or whatever without saying anything dumb, you can start to add back in drinks and talking to more VIPs.

    If events like this are uncommon and you don’t have many to use as practice, for the next one try:
    – imagining your boss is standing right behind you the whole time
    – sticking close to your boss, so your boss really IS right there listening to everything you say
    – imagining that someone is taking notes and everything you say will be in the record
    – only asking questions to other people, not answering any yourself

    Reply
  68. Deeshyone

    Being hard of hearing has helped me so much in these situations, but it’s also reassuring to see that verbal diarrhea is not just a “me” problem. Something that came floating up my the depths of my memory was hearing “you have two ears and one mouth for a reason” and this is what flashes through my mind as my mouth is trying to betray me.

    Best filter ever.

    Reply
  69. KP

    I struggle with this too. I am very direct, slightly informal and sometimes my mouth gets ahead of my brain. I’m getting better though! I do two things, one of which is very sill but it helps.

    1. I always have a notebook/pen with me in meetings. I’ve found the process of writing down my thoughts (and sometimes doodling!) keeps me from blurting them out. It’s also had the added bonus of giving my introverted colleague a chance to speak.

    2. Before important meetings, I think about my colleagues as cats that don’t know me well but who also understand human speech. (I like cats a lot, so this isn’t insulting) Would a cat appreciate my behavior or conversation, even if it’s in a friendly manner? Or would they hiss, bite, and/or walk away? Would they give me a withering look? Would they piss in my shoes? It’s silly, I know, but it slows me down enough to think before I speak.

    Reply
  70. Polymer Phil

    If this is something you struggle with, try to find a company and industry that are less buttoned-down. I used to feel like I was walking on eggshells at a former employer, and my career has grown quite a bit now that I’m in a less formal industry subfield that tends to blur the line between personal friendships and work colleagues, and is a lot more forgiving of my verbal slip-ups.

    You can improve with practice and experience, as others have pointed out, but that feeling of walking on eggshells will stunt your career growth by making you too paranoid to speak even when it’s appropriate to do so.

    Reply
  71. PromotionalKittenBasket

    I try to engage in active listening! That way I’m not listening to respond so I tend to think more about what I want to say anyway, and it can be a positive way to build a business relationship. If you tend to be a fast thinker, it can keep you engaged, and if you tend to be a little free with your thoughts, it starts to build up your ability to filter at will.

    Reply
  72. OrigCassandra

    Over time I’ve gotten better at gauging whether I need to say anything at all for the situation to go my way (whatever that means at the time). For example, if something in a committee meeting will go up for a vote and I’m pretty sure the vote will go my way, I don’t argue with Lone Blowhard Who Will Vote “No” And Still Be Outvoted. Let them say their thing without argument from me, since it doesn’t matter!

    (Admittedly, it helps that my current workplace is not big on holding grudges over decisions.)

    You will know you have reached black-belt in this strategy when you size up a situation before it even starts and consciously decide to stay mostly silent because your side can and will win without your input. (The situation I’m thinking of, my opposite number got increasingly strident, vocal, and accusatory as it became clear they were losing — pushing possible sympathizers off the fence onto my side. I didn’t have to do a thing but smile, stay calm, and stick to facts. It was beautiful.)

    Reply
  73. amp2140

    Watch your boss.

    I remember getting invited to my first big manager’s meeting over a year ago. The VP was there. We all got to go through our topics, and I got to show some very key processes that needed to be updated.

    In the airport, after the meeting, my boss and I ran into my grandboss. Grandboss will often ask questions to see how well others read a room. He asks who of the meeting of 20 people was a waste of time to fly out. I had some names of people who we simply didn’t get to their topic in the way their job related to the dicsussion, but I named one of the other managers hesistantly. I backpedaled by adding that my boss didn’t contibute a lot because I’m usually the “in the weeds person”, and the same was true for the other manager. Grandboss said something that still sticks with me. “See, when you speak, I don’t watch you. I watch your boss. Even though your boss didn’t have a need to stand up and contribute, he is my validation on what you’re saying. When you speak, he’s up, he’s engaged, he’s either nodding or giving you silent feedback that you need to reel it back in. You two work well because you’re looking for those cues, so you don’t miss them. I trust that what you say has value by how your boss behaves when you speak. The other manager was reading emails when his employee was speaking. She was going on and on, not reading that she needed to wrap it up and he left her to flounder. He did her a disservice, and she did not come off well.”

    I am constantly touching base with my boss on when to speak up about things and when to leave them be. He’s usually pretty open to letting me pitch my ideas, so I really listen when he tells me that this isn’t the meeting to bring something up.

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  74. Heat's Kitchen

    I try to remember what I call the “mañana rule”. I don’t exactly remember where I got the term, just that it was something a very close coworker and I came to remind each other a lot. Basically, if I feel myself getting worked up over something, stop talking about it until the next day.

    Of course, this is a bit harder in the moment, but maybe try to recognize any feelings of unease when in meetings and learn to listen more. That’s what I’ve tried. But I also, like Alison, am very much a say what you think kind of person. Good luck!

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  75. Burned Out Supervisor

    I suffer from this too at times. For me, it’s that I hate uncomfortable silence and also feel that my comments are a way to show that I’m engaged. I often remind myself of the old “It’s better to say nothing and to be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Especially if I’m around people I don’t know. Also, I try and ask more questions than give statements. That way, I can fill the silence void, but I’m not babbling on and on.

    Reply
    1. OP

      This is definitely me! I feel so uncomfortable when there’s silence. In this particular case it was questions after a presentation and after the answer the silence just went on and so unfortunately I just kept on talking. I will definitely try the questions not statements thing, thank you.

      Reply
      1. Anon-Today

        If you say “I see you have no questions, so we can wrap up early” someone will suddenly find the nerve to raise their hand.

        Another thing you can do is come prepared with questions that someone might ask (like something from the slides we all inevitably have to delete!), and then you fill the void with an ice-breaker.

        Reply
  76. Blue Bunny

    I was an overly-honest young employee, not in that I was blunt and mean, but in that I took everything at face value and assumed transparency from my colleagues.

    After several mass layoffs (in which I suspect I could have saved myself with a better sense of PC office behavior), I learned to judge the real background goal behind every situation/question. Always figure out people’s motivations behind the words they’re actually asking you.

    Example: Old Company was floundering, due to serving a dying market with obsolete products. Rather than acknowledge this foundational issue, the C-suite brought in a pricey consultant to evaluate waste and do a lean-style overhaul of the department. After three months, when we were asked for feedback on his work, what should I have said?

    Older me would take into account that huge pile of background baggage. Older me would realize that this company was in denial, out of touch, and desperate for reassurance and a scapegoat. Younger me thought that this consultant was an expensive blowhard, and was worried that the company didn’t realize it was wasting money on this windbag. Younger me earnestly expressed my concerns that his input wasn’t useful or needed. Younger me was not appreciated for my honesty.

    I learned, eventually. I am now a Stepford employee.

    Reply
  77. OP

    Thank you so much everyone! I think I must be in a different time zone to a lot of you, I have only just got in from work and am catching up on all your kind and helpful comments.

    To update a little on this particular situation, I ended up telling my boss what I had done because I just felt really terrible about it and if anything DID come of it I wanted him to be forewarned. He was actually nicer about it than I deserved and said that the important thing was for me to try and learn from it – which is where all this excellent advice will i hope come in. I never do this via email or on Twitter, it just seems to be in person that I get flustered and just KEEP TALKING when I should shut up, or at least pause and think for a while.

    I love my profession a lot but the public facing side of things is getting ever more prominent, giving me ever more opportunity to stick my foot in my mouth!

    Reply
    1. OP

      I should add that in my personal life I often have pretty strong opinions/can be a bit too honest at times and I’m sure this is a big part of the problem.

      Reply
    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      We’re all in a bunch of different timezones, from US coast to coast and lots of Europe. Also a lot of us are online at work because we have jobs that allow it ;)

      Reply
    3. londonedit

      Hey, don’t be too hard on yourself. Everyone makes the odd gaffe now and then and yours wasn’t the end of the world!

      Reply
  78. Tupac Coachella

    In addition to the great advice above about W.A.I.T. and pausing before talking, also don’t be afraid to slow down once you’ve already started, especially if you feel like some component of what you’re thinking actually does need to be said. I’m someone who tends to be careful with my words, but I also have a pretty terrible poker face and value transparency to a fault, so intentional diplomacy is important. I’ve never had any pushback from stopping to think before I complete a thought. For example, “Susie isn’t going to want to do that because she’s hAs tOo mUcH to DoOoO” might shift to “Susie isn’t going to want to do that…….let me clarify: my impression is that Susie already has some concerns about her workload, so we’ll need to be clear with her on where this is going to fit on her plate.” Likewise, “this sponsor is a nightmare to work with” might transform into “this sponsor……has some specific needs that have been challenging for me in the past, like when X happened. How would you like me to address that in the future?”

    For me, it’s all about recognizing my purpose. Do I want to share that I’m frustrated with Susie, or do I want to head off the argument that I know will come when we ask her to do this? I’m not always great at stopping myself before a negative statement starts to come out, but if I give myself a few seconds, I can usually hone in on why that feeling is relevant and flip it into something I can use to actually get what I need. Taking a minute to figure out what I really do want and to check my tone means that my actionable need doesn’t get buried by my negative emotion.

    Reply
  79. Tammy

    This is something I’ve struggled with in my career, and it’s something I’m extra-conscious and attentive about now that I’m a manager and my team members read so much into every nuance of every thing that I say. Here are a few strategies that have worked well for me:

    1. I take notes anyway during meetings, on paper and with a fountain pen (it helps my ADHD brain to focus). If I have a thought I’d like to share, I’ll write it down first. This helps me not forget it, but also, the act of writing the thought down forces me to slow down a bit and contemplate the thought before it comes out of my mouth.

    2. When I’m contemplating wanting to say something, I try to ask myself “what do I hope to add to the conversation by sharing this?” and “if those words come out of my mouth, how will they be perceived by the people who are in this room right now?” It’s always easier to add a thought to the discussion later (in an email or Slack or follow-up conversation or whatever) than it is to take back the words once they’ve tumbled out of my mouth and gone “SPLAT!” on the floor.

    3. As I’ve talked about here before, I’m a transgender woman, and as such my voice is something I’m naturally a bit self-conscious about. I’ve learned techniques in my singing lessons which help my speaking voice also. So, before I speak, I take a breath and do certain physical things to get my vocal folds into the right configuration for how I want to speak. This process takes maybe a second, but it gives me one extra beat of time to double-check that I really want to actually say the words that are ready to come out of my mouth. Even if you don’t have to do those other things, taking a deep breath and counting a beat before speaking helps. It also seems to contribute to the impression that you are thoughtful and deliberative in what you say, which can only help your standing and credibility.

    Hope those suggestions are helpful!

    Reply
  80. Gumby

    I work with a bunch of wonderful and professional colleagues who never do this sort of thing.

    Is it possible that you are judging yourself more strongly than you do others? I’m not saying not to try to improve, but since your co-workers didn’t react maybe what you said wasn’t as bad as you thought it was. Or maybe people don’t care as much as you think they might / should. It could be a perspective thing and you are parsing your own actions much more critically than others’.

    Reply
  81. GreenDoor

    I have had great success letting out an exaggerated, “Ahhh” or “Ah-haaa” sound. It has a great way of acknowledging what the other person just said but doesn’t indicate agreement or disagreement. And, since it’s human nature to want to fill silence, more often than not, the other person continues with what they were saying. Often that buys me a bit of time to formulate the right thing to say. Sometimes the other person ends up being the one to say too much and reveals information (such as a personal relationship, a bias, etc) about themselves that helps be gauge whether I should be more or less candid, or if dropping a swear word is OK, if they’d get my sense of humor, etc.

    Reply
  82. Quinalla

    I still struggle with this sometimes too and even if you aren’t witnessing it, I bet your colleagues have foot-in-mouth moments too.

    I’m much better with email and other written communication, for that I think, “Would I be ok if this was read out loud in a courtroom during a lawsuit?” which maybe sounds extreme to some, but I think is wise at work. Same thing with recording voicemails, there is a record besides people’s memories, so I am more careful.

    Verbal conversation, I do try to put on my work persona a little more strongly or not depending on the setting. Reminding myself that I am representing not just me, but my company, helps too.

    Reply
  83. pegster

    What I have found helps trying to get in the habit of asking myself: why am I about to say this? Sometimes that quick gut-check stops me from saying things that aren’t really necessary, and sometimes potentially risky. It’s my verbal equivalent of thinking before pressing the send button on an email.

    Reply
  84. Introvert

    Where does good judgment come from?

    Experience.

    Where does experience come from?

    Poor judgment.

    I don’t believe there’s an easy, magic way other than by learning which foot tastes better. (Spoiler alert: neither of them.) The fact that the OP is asking the question is a sign the OP is on a better learning curve than most. Being aware there is a problem is half the battle in this case. At some point along your career path, you’ll just know how to read a room better and get a better feel for what it acceptable to say and what isn’t.

    Reply
  85. inoffensive nickname

    Diplomacy is the key. If you’re not sure you should say it, don’t. If it’s unfavorable and you still need to say it, find a way to say it nicely. Best to err on the side of caution and remain silent until you can learn to control the urge to blurt inappropriately.

    Reply
    1. JM in England

      This reminds me of the saying “Better to keep silent and be thought a fool rather than opening your mouth and removing all doubt!”…

      Reply
  86. Scarletb

    So many great tips here, definitely coming back to look later.

    In meetings, I tend to have a glass of water or a cuppa, and if something is said that makes me want to react in some way, I take a sip. I find having a defined physical action involved is really useful for channelling a reaction, and the sip itself is an enforced pause since I have to pick up the cup, mouthful, swallow, put it back down again quietly… and it’s also a very mundane, unremarkable thing to be doing. Plus since I’m sipping at other times as well it doesn’t stand out :).

    Reply
  87. Anon-Today

    We have something of a 2nd shift, sort of, and two of the people who arrive toward the end of my work day are funny, friendly, as disgruntled as I am…. and terrible tattle tales. Having gotten into trouble over misquoted statements I supposedly had said to them, I decided to set an alarm on my cell phone that goes off an hour before they arrive, and has a memo note reminding myself to watch myself.

    I also have to remind myself that my boss is not my friend. She has a very non-threatening demeanor, but I have learned I can’t trust her. I put reminders at strategic points in my notes for meetings to remind myself that I’m not among friends. I tend to be a very trusting person, and this is a tough thing for me to wrap my head around.

    Reply
  88. Piano Girl

    My father had this wonderful ability to make everybody around him feel important. We have a short video of one of my brothers and him on an Honor Flight trip. As they scanned over to them, my dad held out his hand, thanked the person in charge of the trip, asked about what he did professionally, and then actively listened. When he passed away last February, we had so many people come up and tell us how my dad had made them feel important at one time or another. He was a man of few words, but was incredibly curious about everything.
    Whenever I meet people now, I think of him and try to follow his example.

    Reply
  89. Pipsqueak

    I actually still use a technique my school taught me, although I use it more subtly. We had a system of various gestures to help us remember ‘thinking skills.’ So to assess before you spoke, you put your hands flat, as if you are waiting to put your hand up. It works for conversation too, I just put my hands flat against my body and it physically reminds me to think first, then speak.

    Reply
  90. jcarnall

    Oh I feel for you, because I am also apt to do that if I’m feeling relaxed and cheerful – and then you suddenly realise that what came out wasn’t at all appropriate.

    My strategy, which works for me, is to plan on not saying anything.

    I mean that quite seriously: I go to a work event and my settled intent is to say nothing. Not to remain silent – one can make phatic remarks about the weather, the view, the decor, how nice it is to see you again, etc. But to plan that I will not myself say anything, introduce any topic, comment on anything more than phatically.

    Of course I break that rule! But if I do, having made up my mind in advance that I’m saying nothing, if I make a decision to say something it’s then something I’ve thought through and decided is worth saying, not the kind of spontaneous comment that used to get me into trouble.

    I found that it can actually be quite effective in terms of having your contribution remembered if you end up being the last to speak in a discussion at an event because you are there, engaged with and reaction to the conversation, but silent – if someone actually asks you what you think, your considered observation coming in so late in the discussion, ends up being – quite often – what sticks in people’s minds.

    But that was a secondary knock-on effect – what I wanted was to avoid making the kind of spontaneous comment without thinking that could get me into trouble, and being intentionally, effectively silent at work events (aside from small talk/phatic remarks) did work for that.

    Reply
  91. Janet

    This is so me. I agree with Alison’s advice. I try to think of the most potentially touchy topics that could arise before I go to an important meeting or industry event, and I tell myself to be careful about those topics if they come up. I’ll even decide what I would say if they ask about X or if someone mentions Y. I find it’s really helpful to flag things for myself in advance so I’m more mentally prepared and less likely to blurt out something thoughtless. I’ve also found it’s almost always possible to guess the potentially dangerous issues in advance once you get used to thinking that way. It gets easier with practice.

    Reply
  92. sfigato

    This is so me! I have this problem all the time. A few things I have tried to do.

    #1 – avoid saying anything critical and instead focus on praising people
    #2 – ask questions of others instead of chiming in myself
    #3 – limit my alcohol intake to one drink during professional social events
    #4- understand which subject areas are off limits

    I have come to these via putting my foot in my mouth many, many, many times.

    On the other hand, for the most part your big gaffs will be minor blips for other people. So there’s that.

    Reply
  93. JessB

    I feel you! It’s reassuring that there are so many others here who have shared that they do the same thing, and have taken steps to reduce that.
    For me, after two particular incidents, I had to make a blanket rule that I do not say things in All Staff meetings that are not carefully pre-planned, and I do not quickly write and send emails that consist of more than ‘Sure, I can do that!’
    As I said this was after two particular incidents where things I said were just too off-the-cuff and casual, and one of which was able to be misinterpreted in a hurtful way.
    I’m lucky that neither of them damaged my reputation or my relationship with co-workers, and that I have people above me who were willing to have potentially difficult conversations and let me know how those came across.
    I had another incident where I felt my boss was using terminology that was incorrect, and I was right, but I corrected him by saying the right word over and over, every time he went to use the wrong one. In a meeting of our whole team! It was not the right choice!!! It put the focus much more on my childish behaviour than it did on the wrong terminology and what it meant for the team (it had to do with due dates at a time we were really busy and felt really demoralised).
    In that case, I had to go to my boss afterwards and apologise. He and I spoke, away from our desks and the rest of the team, and he said he was really glad I’d apologised, and we worked it out, but it was really awful. Especially because, like I said, my main point was lost!
    He also said in this conversation that he sometimes doesn’t express himself in the best way, so he understands when it happens in others- but I really doubled down on it! That actually helped me a lot, to realise that others do this too, and that mostly, everyone is just doing their best.
    Good luck!

    Reply
  94. Galahad

    Toastmasters – in particular the “table topics” section of the meeting.

    It was weekly practice at pacing/ syncing my brain and my mouth. The topic was typically something that was low risk. I taught myself how to form thoughts into words / sentences, deliberately and on the spot, and vet them before they came out of my mouth.

    Highly recommended for those business meetings!

    Reply
  95. talkative_toaster

    A bit late to comment, but: as someone with ADHD I really struggle with this. What has helped me the most is a physical reminder. I sit with my thumb under my chin, index finger on cheek and long finger over my lips in a classical “I am listening intentively” pose :) Sometimes, if I feel especially “blurty” I almost pinch my lips together to remind myself to not talk.

    Reply

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