It’s all so clear…. 6 hours later. Have you ever thought of the perfect response after a conversation ended?
For me, it happens in the shower. As I replay the conversation hours or days later, the perfect words flow effortlessly, down the drain, unheard by anyone except me.
We’ve all been there. It’s frustrating, yet to some degree, it’s also preventable. Here’s how to harness the strategic thinking and perfect verbiage you’re capable of in the shower:
1. Don’t respond too quickly.
The reason we ‘know what to say’ later is because we’ve simply had more time to process. We stumble our words when we’re pressure to respond immediately.
A 10-second verbal pause, just taking a beat to collect your thoughts, will pay off. And if something is really really important, ask for time to think about before reacting.
2. Ask a question.
Before jumping in with your thoughts, ask one more question. Asking a question will not only give you a little bit more time to formulate your thoughts, it will help further refine your response.
You can use this question to clarify, test your initial hypothesis, or simply buy time. Some of my favorite go-to’s are:
3. Look for themes in your shower regrets.
Is the theme not standing up for yourself? Not voicing your disagreement? Or does your mental replay usually circle back to being too demanding? Or close-minded?
Recognizing themes in our own communication blunders helps us spot the traps earlier.The more clarity you have, the more preemptive you can be. For example, if the theme of your shower regrets is being too demanding, and you have an important conversation coming up, you can prepare questions to ask (instead of opinions to give).
4. Plan your intent (but not necessarily your words).
You cannot script out the entire conversation because, well, there’s another person who might not respond according to your script. Often times, high achievers will want to craft the perfect talk track. The challenge is, when things don’t go according to the mentally scripted plan, they get derailed.
It’s more effective to plan your intent. What do you want this person to do after the conversation? How do you want them to feel? What do you want them to believe?
Clarity of intent enables you to navigate conversational twists and turns without getting rattled. You always have a mental end-point to work towards (vs a script to stay on).
5. Go back and say what you thought about in the shower.
Often times, it’s not actually “too late.” Sure, a perfect response in the moment might have made you look like a total genius, but better late than never. If you ended a conversation, reflected, and wished you handled it differently, go back and actually handle it differently.
Business is moving faster than ever before, and in haste, we all make communication mistakes. There is nothing wrong with re-approaching a conversation with, “After reflecting on this, I … think / feel / wish I said…. X.” People will appreciate the effort.
Human communication is imperfect. With careful planning and thoughtful questions, you can reduce the ‘coulda woulda shoulda’ thought tracks. But nobody bats a thousand.
High performers are naturally reflective; always looking for opportunities to improve. But if your daily shower is starting to feel like a daily performance review, micro-assessing your every response, try to cut yourself a break.
Showing up with kindness, curiosity, and empathy is more important than finding the perfect words. As Maya Angelou famously wrote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”