Foot In Mouth Disease

Have you ever had one of those moments when you said something that seemed perfectly reasonable inside your head, but the minute it came out of your mouth you wanted to fire your scriptwriter…?

Recently I was very fortunate to attend a workshop run by Clive Gott for people with an interest in professional speaking.  Clive is entertaining and inspiring, liberally using humour throughout his many stories with authenticity and integrity. Like me, Clive is from the northern part of England, where we tend to tell it like it really is – so he really was speaking my language.   (That said, we also know when to do subtlety, tact and diplomacy, especially in a professional setting, but I digress…)

The Workshop

“It’s not all foot lights and fat fees practical day” was the working title for the workshop, so not a training course as such, but with Clive’s gift for laughter and story telling it promised to be a great day, filled with fun and insight.

In his informal and open style, Clive simply shared with us how he does presentations, the mistakes he has made in the past, and the lessons learned as he celebrates 10 years as an inspirational speaker. He really is excellent at what he does.

The session started traditionally enough with each delegate introducing themselves – name, business we’re in, what we were looking for from the day, the usual sort of thing. This would be a seemingly easy thing to do. A simple task you would think, unless you were suffering from acute FIMD (Foot in Mouth Disease), an embarrassing but non-contagious condition which I had apparently contracted driving up the motorway that morning.

So, when it was my turn to introduce myself and make a great impact on the group, all I could get to come out of my mouth was this:

“Hi, I’m Joy Griffiths, my company is Joyous Solutions and I help people to reach their goals faster….”

The Doctor’s Diagnosis

So how did my introduction go? How was it received? Clive was not impressed. He quickly pointed out that this is such a well-worn and hackneyed phrase that it really doesn’t do it in today’s competitive marketplace. It was clear that I was under the weather with FIMD.

Of course he was right, I was totally lackluster and missed the mark with my introduction exercise (…but  in my defense, I can only say that it didn’t sound anything like that in my head before I opened my mouth….) My sickness defeated my open slavo.

The Patient’s Response

In a previous life, I might have taken Clive’s challenge very personally. I would have felt self-conscious and would have been trying to decide what went wrong. I would be running my “debut” over and over in my head, wanting to run out of the room immediately and go home to hide.

How dare he say that?” I would think. ” What right had he to make me feel bad?

I was taken aback for a few moments with his critical comments. I felt very bad about what I had said and the “judgmental” comments coming from someone I admired. But rather than dwell in doubt, fear, or self-pity, I took the time to reframe what I was thinking long enough to distance myself from the words and really consider what was going on here.

I thought to myself “But I’m a big girl now, right? Why should he not challenge me when he knows it is for my benefit? Did he really make me feel bad – or did I do that to myself?

Objective Information

What was the intent behind Clive’s comments – was he saying these things to deliberately hurt me?  Absolutely not. His intention was to help me improve my marketing messages by providing objective information to me. In recognising this as constructive criticism, I could let it go of the negative feelings that I generated. I could be liberated to really be present for the rest of the session. I won the internal battle and was able to continue enjoying the group interactions.

I was able to get over my feeling by employing some things I have learned about communication performance. Some of you (especially the NLP buffs) will recognise:

These days I have the resources to really consider the actual words I used and how I could have delivered a better message.  Instead of getting upset about saying “the wrong thing” I chose to consider what exactly I could learn about improving my own communications to get responses that are closer to my expectations and desires.

Language is extremely potent. It has the power to create within us truly wonderful or dreadfully awful feelings. Language is capable of making our spirits soar up to the heavens, or plummet our psyches in flames to the ground.

These feelings can lead us to show useful (good, positive) – or less useful (bad, negative) – behaviours.  In our personal lives this can make or break relationships. The same can be true in our professional lives. As leaders we surely aspire to creating positive cultures and outcomes.

Can you think of a time when a leader you know created good or bad situations by the language they used? How did this impact the culture? Can you think of a time when your words didn’t get the response you expected from somebody? What could you have said differently? And when you get it absolutely right, can you duplicate that formula in the future? How have you overcome the dreaded Foot In Mouth Disease? I would love to hear your stories!


Joy Griffiths is Director and Owner of Joyous Solutions Ltd
She helps clients with Executive Coaching and Business Development
Email | LinkedIn | Web| Skype: joy.griffithsjsl | +44 7884 311081

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