12 Most Thoughtful Tips for Keeping your Foot out of your Mouth

12 Most Thoughtful Tips for Keeping your Foot out of your Mouth

We’ve all made a comment that sounded boorish as soon as it left our mouths. Or made an insensitive remark and then regretted it. This list of tips is a primer for how to avoid (most of) those moments. The common theme is this: use your brain before you use your mouth.

1. It’s much easier to keep your lips zipped than to make amends for a blunder you blurted

Always true, this one. Making amends is never quick or easy.

2. Asking about someone’s salary, mortgage, debts or assets are fine — if you are the person’s financial advisor

And it’s impolite in pretty much any other circumstance. Need proof? Just try it out and see…

3. It’s fine to say, “We will just have to agree to disagree on that”

Why, oh, why do people feel the need to not just offer their opinion but also try to convert the whole group? It’s okay if you feel a certain way. And it’s okay, too, if I don’t. So, before you ramp up the conversation, volume and tension — and say something you regret — just agree to disagree. Done.

4. Unless a woman has informed you directly that she’s pregnant, don’t ask her about her fertility status — even if she’s about to burst into labor

Uh, just trust me on this one, okay?

5. Observations about a person’s unusual weight or height are fine as thoughts, and not so fine as comments

One of my two sons is a little short for his age. The other day, when paying for some sundries at a convenience store, the clerk asked how old they both were. When I told her, she said — over and over — “Wow, he’s really little!” And as I ushered them out the door, I was thinking, “Wow, you’re really rude.”

6. If you’re not asked for your opinion, it’s generally best not to offer it

Please take note, salespeople, random-givers of parental advice, passersby and people in checkout lines. Just last week, a man offered a running commentary on what was in my grocery cart. After listing about four or five items, he declared: “You must really like dairy!” I didn’t respond (what was I supposed to say?) He repeated it, more loudly this time. Cringe.

7. “Funny” stories told at the expense of a group of people never really are

Look, I can laugh at myself. And I admit I’ve heard some pretty funny blonde jokes over the years. Still, telling these kinds of “jokes” often backfires, and then they land with an awkward thud — or far worse. Best to just steer clear.

8. If tensions are rising in a conversation, it’s okay to say you need a break to calm down and to walk away rather than saying things you can’t erase

No need to add much to this tip except this: keep the exit classy. This means no slamming of doors or pealing off in your car. Just let the person know you need to calm down, excuse yourself and leave.

9. Your mom was right about keeping quiet when you have nothing nice to say

Really. Good. Advice.

10. Responding to a rude comment with rudeness is not dignified; responding with silence usually is, though

You can even lift your eyebrows, if you want. That silent eyebrow lift? Oh, it gives a dictionary worth of feedback.

11. Take a moment to think about the impact of something that’s about to come out of your mouth before it actually leaves your lips

No harm has ever come from this small, but crucial, gesture. And it has undoubtedly averted countless conflicts.

12. When you blow it, apologize sincerely and swiftly

That’s really all you can do. That, and this: once you realize you’ve started digging a hole for yourself, put down the shovel.

Humans are imperfect beings. And communication is full of mishaps waiting to happen. We can’t change that. But we can improve our odds of not stepping in a pile of you-know-what if we keep some of these tips in mind.

Good luck and let me know if these help. (Meanwhile, did you hear the one about the blonde…)

Featured image courtesy of Ana Patrícia Almeida licensed via Creative Commons.


Becky Gaylord


Becky worked as a reporter for more than 15 years in Washington, D.C.; Sydney, Australia; and Cleveland, Ohio for major publications including the New York Times, Salon.com, Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, and was Associate Editor of the Plain Dealer's Editorial Page before she launched the consulting practice, Gaylord LLC. The company helps clients improve their external relations and communication and increase their influence and impact. Becky blogs about that (a few other things) at Framing What Works.

468 ad

I love tips 1, 6 and 9 but I do hate admitting my mom was right! 


Fantastic advice. My favorite is:

"Take a moment to think about the impact of something that’s about to come out of your mouth before it actually leaves your lips"