We’ve all been there. You put your foot in your mouth while talking with a customer and immediately wish you could swallow those words back. Communication is key in any relationship but unfortunately, conversation mistakes occur. Luckily for you, that’s not where the story ends.

Let’s look at some small business communication faux pas confessions, and see how your business can recover from or avoid those mistakes in the future.

Confession # 1: I ghosted a client.

“I once stopped responding to a client without any explanation.”

While this business owner didn’t explain why they disappeared, there was definitely a reason. Perhaps they were feeling overwhelmed by the project, dealing with personal issues or simply forgot.

Pulling a disappearing act on a customer can come off as unprofessional and damage your business’s reputation. When a client invests time into learning about your business, they trust you to deliver a service.

To avoid this:

Set yourself up for success by establishing expectations and timelines from the start. If you’re running behind schedule or facing unexpected challenges, be transparent with your clients. They’ll appreciate the honesty.

If you notice that emails and direct messages are slipping through the cracks, start using a consolidated inbox to keep all of those communications in one place and easy to access.

Confession # 2: The tone in my email was WAY off.

“I sent an email with a casual tone, but my client emailed me back saying they couldn’t believe how rude I was being.”

Yikes! There are several reasons misinterpretations might occur. There could be a language barrier, culture difference or perhaps you missed the mark while trying to make a joke.

To avoid this:

Be clear and concise in your writing. Add all the background needed, being mindful of word choice. Although it might be tempting, avoid using sarcasm or humor that could be misinterpreted. Not sure? Have a co-worker give your message a proofread before hitting send.

If you find yourself in a situation where a client has misinterpreted your tone, it’s important to take immediate action to redeem yourself as a business.

Schedule a meeting to apologize and clarify any confusion. Also, provide additional resources and information to help your client better understand what you intended to say.

A great safety net is emojis. These tiny little symbols are perfect for driving home the emotion you’re trying to convey. Just remember to use them when they are appropriate. It might be a bit strange for a law office to send emails filled with emojis. 

Confession # 3: I forgot to include someone important.

“I was rushing and didn’t copy a department head on an important email thread, causing them to miss crucial information and lose an important client.”

Accidents happen, but forgetting to loop in key people can lead to misunderstandings, delays and missed opportunities.

This is true for internal or external emails. It’s frustrating for someone to find out that they were left out of an important conversation, intentionally or not. This can lead to resentment and mistrust — putting the company’s culture at risk.

To avoid this:

Always double-check recipients to ensure all relevant parties are included in the email. It’s better to err on the side of caution and include too many people than to forget someone important and cause turmoil.

If you’ve already made the blunder, there’s still time for redemption. Apologize to the impacted person and offer an explanation.

And if you cost the company a client like our confessor, try reaching out to the client, explain what happened and hopefully win them back.

Confession # 4: I accidentally hit ‘reply all.’

“I mean to hit “reply” on an email about a patient’s medical history records, but instead hit “reply all,” accidentally sharing confidential information with members of another department.”

This could be a nightmare for a business. This mistake can cause a loss of trust, a plummeting reputation and, in some cases, legal action if information gets into the wrong hands.

To avoid this:

Check, check and triple-check your recipients. When using the “Reply All” function, review the content in your message. If you find an ounce of delicate information within the email, either remove the items or remove the excess people.

If you accidentally share private information about a client, it’s vital to take immediate action.

Seek forgiveness from the client and assure them you’re taking measures to prevent this from happening again. The next step is to inform all the parties who received that email to delete it immediately and not share the content inside.

Some email servers will even allow you to “retract” an email once you send it, which provides a notification to the recipients that you would like it to be disregarded.

Confession #5: I waited too long to deliver bad news.

“My team was dealing with a crisis, and I delayed informing some people, causing rumors to spread.”

Let’s keep this simple: The longer you wait, the more chaotic this situation will become.

When people are left in the dark, they are unable to make informed decisions or take appropriate actions.

To avoid this:

Step up and take ownership of your part in causing the chaos and learn from your mistake. If you’re the boss, ensure that the lines of communication are open and everyone knows they can speak up when needed — even in the worst circumstances. Do this by holding regular meetings, one-on-one conversations and providing easy-to-use team messaging apps.

Confession #6: I posted to the wrong social media account.

“I manage my business’s social media, and I accidentally posted something personal on the company’s Instagram.”

This is a small uh-oh unless what you posted was wildly offensive. Taking down the post is a step in the right direction, but what happens when your company loses business because they associate your brand with and offensive meme or a TMI moment?

To avoid this:

Double-check which page you’re posting from before you start typing. Keep in mind: You’re the face of your business. If you wouldn’t post it on your business page, you shouldn’t post it on your personal page.

Everyone on the team should consider how posts can be interpreted before sharing content online. If something does slip through the cracks, remove the post and address it publicly with an apology if warranted.

Confession # 7: I ignored someone’s feedback.

“My team tried to give me constructive criticism, but I wasn’t in a good space to receive it and dismissed their concerns.”

Ignoring feedback can lead to stagnation, a lack of accountability and failed opportunities for growth.

Let’s look at the fictional bookstore, Penny’s Page Turners that’s been in business for two decades. For the first several years, the bookstore was thriving, attracting a steady flow of customers who enjoyed browsing the shelves and purchasing books. However, over time, the business began to slow down. Employee John suggests polling shoppers on what they enjoy reading and launching an online store for loyal customers who move away.

Penny, living in the glory days, decided to ignore the feedback that her employee gave. Consequently, the store lost its appeal to younger customers and saw a decline in sales.

Your business’s evolution is not limited to trends and style. It involves your leadership as well.

To avoid this:

Open yourself up and seek feedback from both customers and employees to make it clear that their opinions are valued.

Actively listen to understand the perspective of the person providing the feedback. Address the concerns professionally and appreciate them for what they are — an opportunity for improvement.

Based on the feedback you received, take action. This can look like changing the way your business runs or tweaking your services. Let the suggestion maker know that you heard them and are working to make the proper adjustments — and you’re committed to the growth of your business.

Confession # 8: I assumed everyone knew what I was talking about.

“I had a meeting with my dental office staff and assumed everyone in the meeting understood the new extraction procedure we were using. Our new hire didn’t. I found out after a blunder with a client — and that client’s bill.”

Not everyone has the background, experiences or information you have, and presuming that means you are leaving out key information they need.

This can lead to costly errors. Imagine if your surgeons and doctors assumed that one another had read your file. You wouldn’t feel too safe, right?

To avoid this:

Always add background, context and clarity. Use examples to express your point. Ask and encourage questions. This opens up the lines of communication and ensures everyone is on the same page.

Consider extra training when needed. By fostering, a culture of open communication, active, listening and ongoing education, your teams will run more effectively and avoid unnecessary misunderstandings that hamstring productivity.

Poor communication is responsible for 70% of corporate errors.

Confession # 9: I ignored non-verbal cues.

“I noticed that a coworker was uncomfortable during a group conversation, but I didn’t address it. That co-worker proceeded to avoid me for two weeks.”

Body language, facial expressions and tone of voice provide additional insight into the words people say or don’t say when communicating. When you disregard these cues, you risk creating a culture of mistrust, disengagement and low morale, all of which can lead to decreased productivity and higher turnover rates.

To avoid this:

Work on listening to what your employees are saying and pay attention to how they are saying it, whether in-person or virtual discussions. Be mindful of your own body, language and tone of voice as well. Your employees are likely to subconsciously mirror your communication style, so set a positive example.

If you’ve already broken the trust of your staff after missing some non-verbal cues, take the time to apologize and be willing to listen to your employees’ concerns. Remember, it’s never too late to make a positive change.

Confession # 10: I use too much technical jargon.

“A customer asked me to take a peek at her air conditioning unit, and I told her I would need to grab my multimeter, a voltage detector and a few insulated screwdrivers so I could get right to it. The customer made a face and then I realized she didn’t understand what I was talking about because I wasn’t speaking her language.”

While throwing in jargon can be a powerful way to show your expertise and knowledge in your field, overusing it can turn off or confuse your customers when they’re probably already stressed.

To avoid this:

Put yourself in the customers’ shoes. Tailor your communication to your audience’s level of understanding to avoid overwhelming them with complex terms or acronyms. In fact, make it a habit to keep it simple unless they use industry-specific jargon with you. Even then, err on the side of caution.

If you catch yourself, using too much technical jargon mid-conversation, take a step back to assess the situation. Ask your customer if they’re following what you’re saying, and if they have any questions. Remember: Your goal is to communicate your message effectively, not to impress your client with an extended vocabulary.

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