Open Mouth, Insert Foot

If you feel like you can’t stop yourself from saying inappropriate, rude, or downright embarrassing things, use these 7 strategies for reining in impulsive speech and unwelcome spontaneity.

A man with a bag over his head, wondering "Why do I say stupid things?"
Man with brown bag over head

If you have adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or live with someone who does, you know that being spontaneous is part of the package. Most of the time, this is a good thing. It’s what helps us to think on our feet and to brainstorm outside-the-box solutions to thorny problems.

When it comes to speech, however, spontaneity has a downside. I was reminded of that during a recent coaching session. As a client walked into my office, she noticed my newly highlighted hair. “Awesome hairdo,” she said. “It really hides the gray.” After an awkward silence, we both burst out laughing. I told her, “You were supposed to say, ‘Awesome hairdo. You look beautiful.'”

Not every case of impulsive speech is funny. Ever congratulate a woman — only to discover she’s not expecting a child? Ever badmouth a dish at a potluck dinner — only to discover you’re speaking to the person who made it? Once I ruined a surprise toga party (don’t ask) by accidentally mentioning it to the guest of honor! You already know not to talk politics or religion at social gatherings. Here are some other ways to watch what you say:

Make sure you know the topic before joining a conversation. When you begin with, “I know what you mean” and then go on to say the opposite of what was just said, it makes for an awkward moment. Don’t speak, or speak slowly, until you know exactly what you intend to say.

[Is Your ADHD Causing Social Slip-Ups?]

Don’t be too quick to share intimate information. As my grandmother used to say, “If you wouldn’t want to see what you just said on the front page of the newspaper, don’t say it at all.”

If you’re angry, wait until you’ve cooled down before having a discussion. To keep from shouting when you’re excited, take a breath and aim for a whisper instead.

If you offend someone, apologize at once. Remember, a good apology does not come with an excuse. Right way: “That was rude. Please forgive me.” Wrong way: “Sorry I said that. I’m running on four hours of sleep. It’s a wonder I can even think straight.”

Bring paper and pencil to important meetings. Jot down your comments and share them with co-workers at your leisure. If your e-mails are getting you in trouble, save them in the “draft” folder for 24 hours before sending them.

[Free Download: Become a Small-Talk Superstar]

When asked your opinion, say, “Give me a moment to think about that.” The extra second or two buys you time to come up with an appropriate response.

Avoid gossip. A friend posted a sign outside her cubicle that reads, “Updates on the grandchildren, good news, and funny jokes are welcome! Gossip, complaints, and jokes in bad taste are not.”

Last but not least, if you are throwing a surprise party… good luck!

[“Oh, No, Did I Really Just Say That?!”]