You’re No Petula Clark!

For reasons galore, Petula Clark can get away with what the rest of us can’t – saying (or singing) something unbecoming of our position or profession.

In 1965, thanks to the music and lyrics of Tom Hatch (thank you Wikipedia), Petula Clark unleased on our sensitive ears what I place in nomination for the cheesiest words in pop chart history for any song, let alone one that reached # 3 in the U.S.A.

The song, I know a Place, includes this line:

“At the door there’s a man who will greet you

Then you go down stairs to some tables and chairs”

Talk about bad imagery, talk about a writers miss….ugh! Call me a cynic or dramatic – but thank you Tom and Petula for letting us know that this hot place has tables and chairs. What a revelation.

What’s the point? You already know. For Petula Clark – no harm. For you – a possible career and emotional setback. I’ve been there a few times.

Think about the times when you said something you wish you could take back. Or a time when a courageous colleague suggested that you said something you shouldn’t have.   How did you react? What did you do?

I want to highlight three types of verbal miscues at work (there are others):

Miscue # 1: Unintentional and Regretful: I say something out of character and immediately I know I screwed up. I apologize and most people move on.

Miscue # 2: Intentional and Glad: I say something wrong or offensive and have no regret. If fortunate, someone comes to me later (or in the moment) and says that what I said hurt others or was inappropriate. If I’m mature, I don’t push back. Instead, I reflect on the incident and why I thought my words were acceptable. I listen to the feedback. I fix the matter. On the other hand, if others remain silent and my self-awareness is lacking, I live with my head in the sand and the damage I caused. I may also keep making the same mistake. After all, I think I’m funny.

Miscue # 3: Intentionally Silent: Not all miscues are spoken. Some miscues can occur in silence – when I should have spoken up. Recently, I talked with a friend who was in a leadership team meeting where two colleagues went at it. Words were exchanged. One stormed out. The leader (the president of the organization) sat silent – acting like the offensive matter didn’t happen – ignoring the hurt and cultural destruction. Many leaders are like this – incapable of linking and stopping offensive behavior in their immediate world but expecting the rest of the organization to be what they’re not.

How do you deal with your own verbal miscues? How do you manage your presence through words and actions? Here are just three coaching tips:

  1. Sharpen your self-awareness. I talk about self-awareness all of the time. As you see more details about how you are, your pathway to personal revelation and resourcefulness will grow exponentially.
  2. Have conversations with colleagues and your leadership team about how you and others may be sending mixed-messages to each other. At least twice a year, set aside time to ask your team how well your words and messaging aligns with your values and vision. Lead by surfacing and fixing the inconsistencies.
  3. When words and messages get messy, fix the matter immediately. Invite your colleagues to freely correct you and question what you say. Embrace people who have the courage to question and correct you. Check your defensiveness at the door.

I don’t listen to much music. However, I’m a fan of Petula Clark. If I think she or her writer had a miscue in a song, the impact on me and others is meaningless. Most fans won’t notice. At work, we don’t have this luxury.

Peter Burchard works with people to help them reach their goals and improve their effectiveness. Reach Peter at: 331-228-1190 or




Posted in Musings.

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