Foot in Mouth Faux Pas

Portrait of a pretty woman with an expressive emotion

We spent the spring traveling and speaking around the country to organizations, conferences and private workshops. One of them, in particular stands out in my mind.

This particular event was a self-advocacy conference that Barton was attending with several colleagues. I was along for the ride.

While Barton was off working, I found a place to hunker down with my own work for the day.

The lobby of the hotel was small, and without any electrical outlets. I sneaked into the luncheon area to pull my computer out in the corner, and eventually ordered lunch. I kept myself entertained with writing projects for the next few hours.

Hearing Barton’s voice, I looked up from my computer. He was trying to find space where he and a few colleagues could talk privately.

There was a gathering of three hostesses hovering over Barton. They couldn’t understand him, and one said, “No, the diner would be closing in two minutes.”

I didn’t interfere because it wasn’t my place, and Barton was on work mode.  As the hostess locked the doors, I asked, “Do I need to leave, too?”

Her reply, “You can stay until I leave. I don’t know what he wanted. I couldn’t understand him. You know, I just don’t understand why they don’t bring someone with them.”

I thought, Seriously? No, you didn’t just say that. (with finger snaps included).

Yet, I smiled and without hesitation replied, “Well, you know, I’m his wife. He was at the conference up stairs, and just looking for a place to talk because there’s not a lot of space out there. You know, my husband may not understand every word he says, but he’s extremely independent. He has a job, and we’ve been married for 10 years. He’s at a conference, and I don’t interfere in his work, you know?”

I was polite and courteous, but I also felt a surge of energy rise. There was the bad taste in my mouth and flash of anger because someone basically insulted the person I love.

These situations apply not only to people with disabilities, but two colleagues adamant their point of view is right, thinking negative thoughts about a customer, or two parents comparing their children’s talents. We’ve become a society of judges and juries, and we still divide people we don’t understand into “them” and “us.”

And trust me, I’ve had my fair share of foot in mouth moments. Where the look on the other side says it all. I screwed up. And I screwed up, royally.

Whether we choose to address it in the moment, is of course up to each individual situation. We are all going to deal with these situations in our own way. But however we deal with them, there is a lingering energy that is important to burn off.

If we don’t, we may become cold, bitter and angry over time, which doesn’t serve anyone, especially ourselves!

What to do?

What do you do with that energy after the situation is over? Here are some tips:

• Working it out with physical exercise.

I find that my morning walks with my dog, Bear is when I work out my emotions, frustration or irritation of these type of situations. And fifteen minutes after swimming or training in martial arts, I feel like a whole new person. What’s your favorite exercise or physical activity?

• Talking it out.

There are just times we need to talk it out. It may not be appropriate to go off on someone in a public place or give them a piece of your mind. There are times when the words and conversations stay in our mind long after the event or situation, and we just need to talk it out. Who in your support system can you talk to?

• Writing it out.

Studies have been show that if we write about an unresolved situation, there are positive physiological changes that happen in our body, such as lower blood pressure and heart rate. And, a journal is a safe space to let our frustrations out.

• Working with the community.

When mis-understandings occur, there may be an opportunity to work with the community, to educate further or offer our contribution instead of our criticism. Where in your community is your voice needed?

Whether we chose to say something in the moment or let is pass, it’s important not to let the emotion of these situations build up over time.

And learning how to let go is an essential part of professional and self-care!