Disaster Recovery for Emotional Outbursts

by Jennifer Miller on November 12, 2010

in Communication, Personal Effectiveness

You’re a professional, right? [Waiting for the affirmative.]

Yep, that’s what I thought. Me too.

One of the hallmarks of professionalism is emotional restraint; I pride myself on my ability to zip my lips when needed. But once in awhile, I experience a momentary lapse—times when exasperation or sarcasm gets the best of me and I say something I wish I could take back.

Let’s face it, we professionals are human; if only there was an “undo” button on our mouths.

Just as companies are encouraged to have Disaster Recovery Plans, so too, should professionals. There’s no “delete” command on a verbal exchange, but it is possible to reconcile with a colleague who’s the unwitting recipient of your less-than-tactful reply.

At a loss for how to gracefully recover? Here are a few phrases that you might find useful if you have just dished out something you wish you could retract*.

“I’m sorry.”

“That did not come out the way I intended. Let me try it again. . .”

“May I have a do-over?”

“That was uncalled for and I apologize.”

“That sounded way better in my head than it did out loud.”

“Wow, that was a snarky comment! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way.”

“I’m really frustrated and I took it out on you. That’s not fair and I apologize.”

Above all, you must convey your message with a tone of sincerity.  Otherwise, you’ll just dig yourself a deeper hole and further erode the trust you’re trying to re-build. Keep this in mind as well: you can only use these phrases so many times before they ring hollow. Stephen Covey is well-known for promoting the concept of the emotional bank account. If you make too many “with drawls” from a co-worker’s emotional bank account, eventually you’ll become overdrawn no matter how sincere your apology is.

What if you’re on the receiving end of the apology? Accept it with grace. You never know when your impulse control will slip a notch and you’ll need to ask for a mulligan. But you’re a professional. So you probably already knew that.

*I’m not talking about tirades, emotional meltdowns or any form of workplace bullying. Those behaviors have no place in a work setting.

photo credit: istockhphoto.com© budgetstockphoto

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer November 12, 2010 at 11:37 am


Thanks for stopping by The People Equation! It’s nice to see a new face.

Yes, there is a definite strength in being able to ignore one’s ego to make a genuine apology. I also think sometimes it’s something different than ego– it’s embarrassment. Either way, a person needs the courgage to name the blunder, own it and help make it better.

Jennifer November 29, 2010 at 8:25 pm


Hi! Thanks for stopping by The People Equation. Yes, we all have those “moments”, don’t we? Glad you found this post helpful.

slen July 30, 2013 at 5:48 am

Hi Jen,

These are great tips. I just had my emotional outburst at work and some of my co-workers took it as a personal attack. Now I am trying to figure out how to address this the best way I could. Yes you are right, it is how to ignore my ego and make a genuine apology (specially when I am not a big fun of that particular co-workers). But I have to accept that I did wrong and now need to apologize. I’m using some of your suggestions. Thank you.

Jennifer Miller August 1, 2013 at 7:38 pm

So glad to hear that my suggestions proved useful.Good luck!

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