You Regret What You Said. Now What?

Many of us have been there. We’re all human, right? You’re talking to a client on the phone, and he/she is being rude and not listening to you. You try to be patient and you do your best to stay calm. You explain any misunderstandings and try to reassure the client. However, the client isn’t listening and continues to yell at you. Your limit has been hit and you snap at the client. Alternatively, maybe you’re on the phone with a company that you work with. Perhaps you don’t understand what your account manager is saying and you were stressed out already, so you take it out on the account manager.

Or, maybe you’re speaking with a colleague who is infuriating you. He/she isn’t listening to your concerns and instead talks over you. It seems like he/she doesn’t care at all about what you have to say. Again, your limit has been reached, so you say some things that you shouldn’t have. After any of these instances, one thing is clear - you regret what you said and how you behaved. How do you fix that?

Acknowledge your mistake
Don’t pretend that nothing happened. You did something you shouldn’t have done, so ignoring it will make others think that you’re someone who won’t own up to their actions. It’s better to take responsibility for your mistake than try to get away with it. That way, you’ll be able to fix the mistake and move on. Otherwise, you might look like a liar and people will question your future intentions.

Simply saying “I shouldn’t have said that” or “I didn’t mean that” is a good way to show the person you hurt that you don’t have negative intentions.

Figure out what actually happened
You already know what happened - your emotions got the best of you and you reacted unprofessionally. However, it’s also important to figure out why that happened. By understanding your triggers, you can try to prevent your anger from escalating in the future.

First, try to figure out your actual emotion. Are you angry or upset? Or maybe you’re just tired?

Then, figure out why you are feeling that emotion. Are you upset about something that’s not even related to work? If that’s the case, you be careful because you can easily snap in other situations too. Can you fix the thing that’s making you angry so that it doesn’t spread into other parts of your life? It’s possible that the answer is no - we can’t fix all of our problems. Yet knowing this will help you determine how to compartmentalize your life so that the problem doesn’t follow you around.

Alternatively, are you angry about what the person said to you? Was it just one thing he/she said or multiple things? Or you’re angry about how the person behaved? Or are you upset at the person in general, so anything that he/she says will cause your blood to boil? There are a lot of questions you can ask yourself, and they’ll all lead down different rabbit holes. The purpose of going down the rabbit holes is to pinpoint the problem as accurately as you can. Again, understanding the issue as fully as possible will help you resolve it and prevent future outbursts.

For example, maybe you saw that a paralegal wasn’t following up promptly with retainers that he/she sent out, so you burst at him/her. In response, the employee got defensive, claiming that his/her follow-up procedures were sufficient, and you two left this unresolved.

Try to dissect the issue - why did you snap? Was it because the work wasn’t done? The follow-ups are important, but it seemed like your paralegal thought that he/she was doing the correct amount of follow-ups. Your paralegal also has a great record for intake calls and retainers sent. Maybe you’re not angry specifically about the lack of follow-ups.

Therefore, maybe you got angry for another reason. Perhaps it was because you and your paralegal disagree on the number of necessary follow-ups, and you and your paralegal haven’t discussed this issue before. You want to have clear communication with your employees and that doesn’t seem to be the case in this scenario.

Once you realize this, you can establish a better communication system with your employee. Creating such a system will allow you to determine how many follow-ups are appropriate and how many follow-ups are completed. You’ll have a better understanding of what goes on in your office - what projects are being worked on and at what rate, and what’s prioritized. This will not only help prevent future anger, but you’ll also have a clearer picture of the work that gets done in your office.

Apologize and resolve the issue
You know you did something wrong, you might have figured out why, so definitely apologize! The person you hurt can’t read minds, so vocalize your apology.

If you’re still speaking with your client, account representative, or anyone else, say: “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry for yelling.” Then, explain what happened. Going back to the colleague who didn’t complete your desired number of follow-ups, say: “I was frustrated because I realized you and I have a misunderstanding on the number of follow-ups that should be done. Therefore, I think we should work on a communication system where we know our goals and how much work you have, but you don’t feel like you’re being micromanaged by me.”

Recognize that you’re human
It’s easy to beat yourself up when a regretful outburst happens because you know this one action doesn’t define who you are. However, dwelling on one mistake won’t do you any good. You’ll be disappointed and upset with yourself, and you’ll have a hard time moving forward. Recognize that you’re human and you can and will make mistakes. Acknowledge, understand, and apologize about your behavior, and do your best to make your future words and actions reflect who you truly are.