Good Question: Oops! I said something I shouldn’t have. Now what?

I am an administrator in a large school district. I’ve worked in this organization for over 10 years. My goal, in my career, is to have impeccable integrity. But recently I made a mistake.
A colleague shared with me that one of the principals in her region was in danger of being fired. I wasn’t thinking, and I blurted out… “Oh, we have an issue just like that happening in our region, too.” It was never my intention to share that information. She then asked, “Is it [insert name here]?” I nodded yes.
I didn’t mean to gossip or share confidential information. I feel terrible about it.
Do you have any advice for someone in my situation?
–[Please Don’t Use My Name]

Dear Lovely Anonymous Person,

When I make a mistake — no matter how big or small — that mistake often becomes embedded in my brain, re-playing and looping like an awful video clip.

I can’t stop thinking about it. Punishing myself. Again and again.

If that’s happening for you, try to find a way to let it go.

Stop punishing yourself for this mistake.

(When I was a little kid, my favorite way to do this was to visualize the mistake as a huge asteroid, floating in space. I was the spaceship captain. And… blammo! I would blast a missile at the asteroid and shatter it to pieces. Goodbye! Solar winds would carry the fragments away. (Dramatic? Yes. Effective? Totally.)

Once you’ve unburdened yourself, then I’d recommend going into clean-up mode.

Reach out to your colleague and say:

“The other day, I made a mistake.

I shared some information with you about [reiterate what you said]. This information was confidential and I should not have shared it.

I am asking you, as a friend and colleague, to keep this information completely confidential. This is very important. Thank you.”

If there’s anyone else that you need to speak to about the slip-up — your supervisor, perhaps? — then consider doing that, too.

Obviously, you don’t want to put your job in jeopardy. But it would be much better for your supervisor to find out about the mistake from you… than from somebody else. Use your judgment and do what feels right.

After that? Try your best to be more mindful & intentional in your communication.

Pause before you speak. Think before you write. Consider doing the Feel. Know. Do. process (one of my favorite communication practices) before you write or say… pretty much anything.

Practicing “intentional communication” is just like practicing yoga or meditation. It requires discipline and devotion — and some days feel harder than others. Keep practicing. In time? You will develop greater mastery.

You can do this.

To quote my favorite (fictional) school employee, Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights:

“Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.”

Good Question is an advice column about writing, communication, creativity, and how to be a decent human being in a complicated world. Looking for past columns? Go here.