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Own your gaffe and apologize immediately.
Own your gaffe and apologize immediately. / Mike Kemp/Getty Images

“Even the most effective communicators make mistakes, but the reason they retain their status is they remedy gaffes immediately,” says Christina Steinorth, psychotherapist in Santa Barbara, Calif. Here’s how:

You made an inappropriate joke.

“Obey the first rule of holes: If you are in one, stop digging,” says Allan Mayer, head of the strategic communications division at PR firm 42West. Translation: Don’t try another joke to offset the first. Acknowledge you offended and apologize.

You were caught talking about people behind their backs.

“The worst thing you could do is pretend nothing happened. You need to own your gaffe,” says Mayer. Your apology may vary depending on the offended party. Your sister heard you make a dig at her? Go short and sweet: “That was out of line, I’m sorry. Next time, I’ll talk to you directly.” If your boss overheard the same thing, fall on the sword a little harder: “I’m so sorry about what I said. I was frustrated and let it get the best of me. I hope you’ll be able to forgive me because I truly enjoy working here. I won’t be talking behind your back in the future.”

You insulted someone without realizing it.

You’ve been poking fun at your teenager for wanting a rose tattoo on her ankle, when the fellow mom you’re with says she has one. Don’t even try to look for wiggle room with your verbal faux pas. Own your misstep and try to deflect. “You do? Well, I’ve been wrong about other things, that’s for sure!”

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