They say to err is human and to forgive is divine. However, sometimes it can seem impossible to forgive our all-too-human being for things that go wrong.
Like the time you invited a friend to a birthday lunch and left the house without your wallet. Or the time you complained about a co-worker’s glum expression and general listlessness – only to find out that her mother had passed away.
Who can forget the big party you had last month, when in the middle of the night you realized you forgot to invite a close friend? Inviting them right away would be like admitting that you forgot them, so you didn’t do anything; Unfortunately, some guests broadcast the event live and your friend was very hurt.
Some of these silly stunts happen when no one is watching, so you don’t have to backtrack or try to explain yourself. Others are bothersome only at the time; no matter how mortified you feel, chances are everyone will forget about it.
However, some embarrassing mistakes can also have serious personal or professional repercussions. But let’s start with the small accidents. Here are several mistakes that everyone makes.
1. The recording went wrong
In 2005, I was a broke college student struggling with a protracted divorce in my 40s, but I still wanted to give holiday gifts. One of my many part-time jobs was writing for the college newspaper, whose editor gave me a book on film history.
Perfect gift for my movie crazy best friend! Unfortunately, I didn’t check the first inside page, where the editor had written me a nice note. Acquittal.
Before giving something back, be Absolutely make sure there are no inscriptions, gift tags or anything else that identifies it as having come to you first. The best example I’ve ever heard: a woman who gave a cookbook as a wedding present, with a $100 bill inside – and received it at Christmas, with the $100 still there. Lots of happy feedback, indeed!
2. Wardrobe Malfunctions
After a midday gym break, you come back to work with your shirt on backwards. Or you spend at least half a party with your fly open. Or you come back from the ladies room with your skirt rolled up in the back.
Maybe a nice person will let you know. Or maybe your friends think it is hilarious that you walk around decompressed, and spread the word not to tell you until the end of the evening.
When getting dressed or re-dressed, take a few extra seconds to make sure you look perfectly presentable front and back. Also, don’t forget to check for spinach in your teeth.
3. Leaving things on the car
You bring a bag/briefcase, a smartphone and a cup of coffee to your vehicle. So you place the cafe on top of the car in order to unlock it. Then you drive off forgetting about the drink until it bounces off the windshield – or until you think, “Wait, didn’t I just have coffee?”
One solution: Put the coffee on the hood of the car, so you’ll see it when you get in the driver’s seat. Another would be to avoid trying to carry so many things at once.
This mistake could be expensive: my old boss once made it wallet on the roof of the car and drove off. Fortunately, a very honest person found the wallet and returned it. You might not be so lucky.
4. Inadvertent shoplifting
Have you ever walked into a store with an item in your hand/cradle in one arm, and forgot it was there? And then left without paying? And then go back inside, red-faced, and join the checkout line?
Avoid those unintentional five-finger cuts by always getting a basket or shopping cart. These are good reminders that yes, you at least wanted a thing.
I also committed a form of reverse shoplifting: putting my items in a bag while talking to the cashier, then leaving without the things I just bought. Really fluid.
5. Erroneous corrections
Someone mispronounces a word, uses incorrect grammar, or makes a statement that you know is wrong. You can’t help correcting them.
Then it turns out they were right and you were wrong. Bonus bonehead points for prefacing your wrong correction with, “Well, Actually…”
Make sure you’re right before telling someone else they’re wrong. Or consider saying nothing at all, especially if it might embarrass that person in front of others.
Not all mistakes are easy to laugh at
Not all mistakes are about you; sometimes the feelings of others are involved. Or maybe it’s a personal or professional reputation issue that’s falling apart because of something you’ve done or said.
That’s why it’s a good idea to develop a personal filter and learn to think before you speak or act. Here are some examples.
6. Criticize within earshot
You come from had to disparage the boss, right there at the Christmas party or an after-work party at the brewery? Blaming the hooch only makes matters worse: Identifying yourself as an indiscreet drunk could torpedo future promotions.
Or maybe you’re having a few beers at a house party when you spot someone you don’t like. For whatever reason you’re talking about Why you don’t like them, realizing too late that they are close enough to hear you.
Here is a rule favored by elementary school teachers: “Is it true? Is it nice? Is it necessary? Is it useful? If not, maybe it shouldn’t be said. And maybe you shouldn’t drink so much either.
7. Accidental Humblebragging
You closed a new house and set a wedding date. Or your child has won a full scholarship to a top university. Or you’ll be able to retire early thanks to this legacy from Great-Aunt Hermione. And you can’t wait to say Everybody.
Some people are really happy for you. Other times, however, you find that the person you’re talking to doesn’t qualify for a mortgage and/or just broke up with their partner, will have trouble paying for their child’s community college, and fact, may have to work until the day they die.
When sharing bits and pieces of your life, consider the audience, then consider calling it back a bit. Not all news needs to be broadcast.
8. Forgetting an important occasion
Here’s an easy way to land in the niche: forget about wishing your dad a happy birthday or a happy mother’s day to your mom. Or if you’re happily married, be sure to forget about your own anniversary – that move still causes drama.
Yes, we are all busy. But calendars exist for a reason. Whether yours is paper or electronic, it’s a simple thing to write down important occasions. In fact, write it a few weeks in advance, to give yourself time to find the right card or plan a special way to celebrate.
It doesn’t have to be expensive to recognize special occasions for the people you love. To paraphrase a greeting card ad, they might never forget that you forgot.
9. Remote work accidents
You’re wearing a suit and tie or a smart blouse for the Zoom meeting, but you’re not wearing pants. No one can see, can they? Maybe not. Or maybe so.
Or your beloved pet wanders the room and you forget to hit mute before it starts baby-talking to your best-boy-fuzzy-butt-in-the-whole-world.
Here’s a simple tip for remote meetings: always assume you can be seen and understood.
10. Message the wrong person
A woman I know spent several years in a pretty mind-numbing job. (Think: “Classifieds taker, but really wanted to be a journalist.”) One day, she used internal messaging to complain about her lousy job, her even lousier pay, and the fact that there was no no possibility of advancement.
She accidentally sent this message not to her friendly colleague, but to the whole office, including her supervisor. Whoops.
Never send an SMS, email or any other type of message without verifying and re-verifying the recipient. You cannot cancel the ringing of that particular bell.