Meeting regret: Overcoming the fear of saying the wrong thing


Earlier this week, a mentee approached me with meeting regret. She didn’t regret what she said or did during a recent meeting. She regretted with she didn’t say–the answer she didn’t give and the details she didn’t provide. Her fear of saying the wrong thing led her to say almost nothing.

Most of us will be saddled with meeting regret sometime in our career. We may ruminate for a few hours or a few days over what we wished we would’ve said or done, but then we’ll move on. Those with chronic meeting regret face a much greater challenge. Conquering chronic meeting regret requires us to push through our fear again and again until it becomes less palpable.

So how do you push through that fear? Here’s a few ideas:

Reframe your post-meeting commentary
When my mentee approached me, she was focused on how she’d messed up during the meeting and let herself down. Self-criticism is a powerful weapon that can inflate fear and spur on the cycle of meeting regret.

I suggested she change her post-meeting commentary. Whenever she started the “I messed up” internal dialogue, I advised her to recite this sentence aloud:

“I didn’t answer that question as well as I would have liked to, but I’ll do better next time.”

It may sound stilted or overly formal, but studies have shown this type of cognitive behavior therapy is very effective for re-training our thoughts and internal messaging.

Give yourself a re-do 
If you can’t stop ruminating about the meeting and what you didn’t say, find a quiet spot and give yourself a re-do. Replay the meeting in your mind, but this time say out loud all the things you wished you’d said during the meeting. This clever trick gives you the opportunity to practice saying what’s on your mind. And hearing yourself saying things clearly and concisely trains your brain to believe you’re capable of delivering a strong message. The best part is, you can take as many re-do’s as you like. Practice until you’re happy with your words and delivery.

Practice meeting gratitude 
Take a few moments after each meeting to reflect on how you did. Instead of looking for things that didn’t go well, look for the good. Maybe you asked a question you’d normally have been too scared to ask. Or maybe you contributed to the conversation in a new way. Write down a few words about what you did in a gratitude journal. (You can even create a section in your OneNote notebook to store these moments of gratitude.)

Bottom line: If you look for the bad in your own performance, you’ll find it. By focusing on the good, you’re opening yourself up to improved possibilities.

Seek feedback
We’re often our harshest critic. One easy way to ensure you’re getting an unbiased perspective on your own performance is to gather feedback from others. So find a few trusted colleagues and share with them the effort you’re undertaking to overcome chronic meeting regret. After a big meeting, send your trusted colleague(s) an instant message or an email asking them to give some feedback on how you did. Their perspective will usually be kinder (and more realistic) than your own.

3 comments

  1. Hi Sarah, couldn’t she have responded via email to all attendees with her information, as a follow up. That is what I may have done.

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  2. I enjoyed this post Sarah, but I would also love to see a follow-up posting about the opposite side of the coin. I am an outspoken person, and I lead a lot of meetings, so I don’t usually experience meeting regret. I do, however, often worry about how to make it easier for those who experience shyness and “meeting regret” to contribute in meetings I lead, especially during short, fast-paced meetings. I want to hear feedback from all in my meetings, not just those with strong opinions and lots of public confidence! What are some tips to ensure I am providing a supportive and encouraging environment?

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