A Little Happier: The Right Thing to Say When Someone Makes a Bad Mistake.

I feel a tremendous intellectual and emotional satisfaction when I hear someone give exactly the right response in a difficult situation, so I’m always on the alert to hear examples of people knowing the right thing to say.

I remember one incident quite clearly, though it happened many years ago.

My husband Jamie and I were working on a side project with several other people. After we all received a certain email, one person—our closest friend in the group—meant to reply to the message just to Jamie and me, with a somewhat mean comment about the larger group. Alas, he made that classic mistake and hit “reply all.”

He immediately sent a note of apology to the people who were surely very annoyed to see the message, and then sent another note to Jamie and me to lament what had happened. When I saw his email, I sat at my desk, trying to figure out how to respond in a way that would make him feel better. I knew he must feel terrible about this mistake, and I wanted to comfort him, but I couldn’t think of a single thing to write.

But in a flash, my husband sent back what seemed to me to be a simple and perfect response: “We’ve all done it.”

 It was comforting because it was true. Reply all–we’ve all done it. Now, often, when I’m around someone who has screwed up, I remind them, “We’ve all done it.”




Like what you see? Explore more about this topic.

Subscribe to Gretchen’s newsletter.

Every Friday, Gretchen Rubin shares 5 things that are making her happier, asks readers and listeners questions, and includes exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes material.