It seems a little like the more options we have for communicating, the less we actually do so. For example, before email or text, we literally communicated by snail mail and phone. That was it. And when we were kids trying to keep up with our summer camp friends during the non-Summer part of the year, or we were writing to a friend who’d moved far away, we would wait days for that reply letter to show up. And it always made me so happy to receive mail.
Fast forward to present moment, we merely say something out loud and one of our devices has recorded our comments and is now sending them to an unintended recipient. Or worse, our “comments” are sold to the highest bidder as the competition for our individual attention is traded over virtual communication like fruit at a farm stand. One minute I am asking a friend if they have any suggestions for a knee brace, and the next, advertisements of multiple products and companies are flooding my email inbox.
Whether you miss the old days, or are relived we have more expeditious means of communication, it seems like we communicate less and less effectively. From automatic responses, to URL links and group emails I think some things are getting lost in translation. But here is something that never should: We need to own our shit.
I was visiting a friend last week and he was chatting on the phone with his friend who lives out West. I was not part of the call, but could overhear it since I happened to be sitting in the next room. It sounded as though there was a “slip up” of sorts, when my friend inadvertently shared something that he later realized he shouldn’t have.
We have all been in this situation, both making the mistake of sharing something that was private, and also on the flip side, had our privacy violated when some shared something of ours, that wasn’t meant for public consumption. Either way there is only one appropriate action which mitigates the potential damage beyond the initial insult of the trust violation. Call the person up, or go to them face to face, tell them you made a mistake, and own your shit in real time.
When the initial call ended, my friend instantly called the third friend, left him a voicemail, and sent him a text apologizing and letting him know. He didn’t sit on the mistake and hope no one would notice for a while, wait for the other shoe to drop, and allow for the festering of assumptions, here say and inaccurate interpretations to fester. He acted quickly and although he felt terribly, he understood the importance of real time communication when the error occurred.
Next time you realize you have made a mistake, revealed info that wasn’t yours to reveal, or made a mis-step that couldn’t be taken back, communicate instantly with the people involved and obviate the opportunity for further collateral damage. Owning our shit looks something like:
- “Hi, heads up I didn’t mean for this to happen, but it did, and I am sorry.”
- “I want to let you know that I said something I should not have, I didn’t mean to do that.”
- “Sorry to add stress to your plate but I unintentionally revealed something important to you.”
Speed is a force. As a reminder our brains work hard to fill in the missing pieces when we don’t understand something. By acting quickly to get everyone on the same page, even though it takes humility and a falling on our own swords, of sorts, it is the least toxic way to proceed.
When we don’t call out our mis-steps as they happen, we can really get into trouble. As time passes the parties involved will start creating their own narratives about why a person asked them a certain question, or had a particular energy about them last time you interacted. There is a direct correlation between how much time passes, and when the truth comes out as it relates to unwanted outcomes. If you mess up and say something you realize you shouldn’t have, letting time pass before coming clean only makes the situation worse.
How different would our world be if anytime we found ourselves being human, and making a mistake, we could simply call the person, or go to their office and say “I have to tell you what I did, and I am very sorry.” What if we simple told the truth, about everything, in real time. How much tension would we avoid altogether by simply owning a behavior when it happens instead of letting it take on a life of its own? How much faster would people resolve conflict if we stop letting things be (the old “It is what it is” stance) and cut to the chase on a regular basis?
Of course this is a tricky situation. No one likes having to make that call to tell a friend we have let them down, sent an email to the wrong address, let some detail slip that wasn’t for sharing, or just behaved in a way that we regretted. But it is a quick and courageous action that can mitigate the damage of secrets and stories brewing.
If you make a mistake like this, its frustrating. But we have all been there, on both sides of this coin and it comes back to being human. We make these mistakes, and these mistakes are made involving us. We can’t take them back or change the past. But we can act swiftly and close the possibility for gossip, supposition and assumption to take on a life of its own and further exacerbate the situation.
If you make a mistake like this, own your shit. Do it quickly, concisely and directly. Anything else is just an invitation for things to get worse, and possibly cause avoidable pain and suffering. And when you are on the receiving end of someone else coming clean and you are the affected party, respond in a way that is understanding, compassionate, and forgiving. That way when its time for you to own your shit, the same accommodations can be made for you.