Have you ever said something to a patient or colleague you wish you could take back? I have.
A few years ago, I placed my foot squarely in my mouth as I was in the midst of the forensic medical investigation of a suicide. The decedent had taken his life with a handgun at home. While I was at the scene, the family’s doctor, who was also their friend, arrived to support them and field their calls. He wanted to give me his private phone number, and I needed a moment to get my notebook to write it down. When I was ready I said to him, clearly without thinking, “Okay, shoot.” It took awhile to get over that one.
While not always as dramatic as my example, verbal missteps happen to everyone. Whether it’s referring to someone by the wrong name or unintentionally breaking a confidence, we’ve all said things we wish we hadn’t.
A slip of the tongue doesn’t have to cut like a knife, though. While ignoring the situation may seem like the best solution at the time, it's not. Here’s how to overcome five common phonetic faux pas.
Problem: You inadvertently shared information you didn’t realize was confidential.
Solution: This issue requires immediate action. As soon as you become aware of your oversight, contact the person or people whose confidence you breached and offer an explanation and an apology. Take full responsibility for following up with all parties to make sure the privileged information goes no further. To avoid these predicaments in the future, make a habit of asking people during conversation if any of the details of your discussion are private. And let your expectations about confidentiality be known, too.
Problem: You introduced someone by the wrong name or with the wrong credentials.
Solution: As awkward as these moments can be, they’re relatively easy to handle. The secret is to be succinct and sincere. If the person you’re introducing corrects you privately, simply say you’re sorry and move on. If it’s brought to your attention that you’ve misintroduced someone publicly—on a stage or at a meeting—address the error as soon as you can by saying something to the group like, “Please pardon me. When I introduced Dr. Shira, I mistakenly referred to her as a plastic surgeon. She is a dermatologist. I apologize, Dr. Shira.”