Gaffe Handling Brilliance

Gaffes or mistakes are common enough - social gaffes can be embarrassing but people with high emotional intelligence can handle them with good grace and humour.

Once it’s obvious to the people around you that you’ve made a self-created social gaffe, how do you deal with it? How do you handle that gaffe?

You can choose to get embarrassed about it, you can choose to tough it out, you can choose to make a run for it or, you can choose to handle it with good grace and humour.

People with elevated and well-balanced levels of Emotional Intelligence tend to handle such situations with the last choice; good grace and humour.

Because I run so many live workshops (pre-2020 of course – I work mostly online now – better for the planet, my delegates and me) I see a number of interesting social scenarios. I recently saw a wonderful demonstration of a self-created gaffe being dealt with by stylish gaffe handling. I thought you might like to read about it.

The Scenario

I was prepping for a workshop in a large hotel which had several events running simultaneously. The session title was clearly visible on the large TV monitor. There were already 7 or 8 people there. About 15 minutes before my workshop session was to begin, a lady swept in and firmly shook hands with me. She introduced herself confidently and gave me her first name. She then sought out a seat next to another delegate and immediately began a conversation with him. As I was checking her name on my attendee list, I found I had two people with the same first name. As a result, I then enquired as to which one she was.

The realisation of the gaffe

Turned out she was neither of the people on my list. She then told me she had only joined the workshop at the last minute. This didn’t phase me because this happens all the time. I put her name on the list then asked for her email address as per the admin requirement. As she gave me the email address one of the other delegates politely mentioned that it was in fact a closed course for their department which she wasn’t a part of. Ignoring this, she carried on telling everyone how keen she was about attending the session she was meant to be attending. She eventually noticed the large TV monitor with my workshop title clearly displayed on it and the penny finally dropped. She was in the wrong room.

The gaffe handling masterclass

Instead of blushing or getting flustered, this super-confident lady simply packed up her belongings, stood up and exited in style. She first turned and shook hands with the delegate next to her and said how lovely it was to have met him. She then shook hands with me and said it was a pity she was in the wrong room as “everyone here seems so lovely here.” I suggested she was more than welcome to stay, or even return if her own course was not up to scratch. I finally wished her well for rest of her day. She cheerfully wished everyone a wonderful day then confidently breezed off to who knows where. During this whole event, she kept a big smile on her face. That’s star quality.

What a stylish and memorable way to handle the situation.

The gaffe in perspective

This was not a life or death situation. It was not even that embarrassing in the overall scheme of things. In fact, I have done the very same thing myself several times over the years. In a busy hotel with vague directional instructions from reception staff mistakes such as this are inevitable. She simply saw a room with a workshop going on and assumed she was in the right place. Because of this she did what she appeared to always do; she dived in and confidently made herself at home.

Gaffe handling starts with full ownership of the gaffe

This was an easy enough mistake to make but she could have gone about her gaffe handling in a variety of ways before leaving.  She might have shouted at and blamed me for not checking the instant she arrived. Perhaps she could have claimed there was no proper course signage, or the TV screen was obscured from her sight in some way. Maybe she could have fled the scene with blushes and apologies all round or she could have walked out angrily without a good word to anyone. All memorable options but not necessarily good options.

From my perspective, the key thing was never allowing herself to get flustered or panicked. She owned the gaffe 100%.

What can we learn from this gaffe handling brilliance?

Because she stayed calm, she was able to see the situation quickly and easily for what it really was. It wasn’t a shocking and embarrassing social gaffe at all; it was simply a funny mistake which anyone could have made. Because she then handled it all with good grace and humour, people in the room laughed with her and not at her. Most empathised and wished her well. It would have been great if she really was on my course although I don’t believe assertiveness was something she lacked.

Self-regulation or self-control is a key element in emotional intelligence. People who keep elevated levels of emotional self-control tend to do well in most social situations and, in my experience, life in general. This lady remained calm and fully in control throughout which then led to her classy and good-natured exit. Here gaffe handling expertise enabled her self-confidence to remain high.

The bonus learning from the excellent gaffe handling

My workshop that morning was all about developing more assertiveness. As the trainer I loved her skilled gaffe handling. She supplied a fabulous, albeit unplanned, example of truly assertive and emotionally intelligent behaviour. It became one of the key learning points on the day.

This story also clearly underlines for me why I love training workshops so much; live and online. I meet such fantastic people, get some unexpected yet wonderful bonuses and I learn something new on every session. Every day is a day in school.

That’s all for this one

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In the meantime, you might also like to check out these related articles:

Emotional Intelligence is Vital

Self-regulation and Emotional Intelligence

Being late can be expensive

Monitor your emotions

PS Do you want to maximise your emotional self-control? Here is a link to my very useful and totally FREE Rapid Emotional State Management Technique audio file which you can download, listen to, and then learn to manage your emotional states with confidence. You’ll also join my monthly newsletter community. In the unlikely event that you don’t like it, an unsubscribe option is available.

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