I was just part of a meeting when someone unloaded a short, angry-sounding rant that made the room uncomfortable. Afterwards, she said, “I’m sorry, I just had to say that.”
Questions sprang to my mind.
Are you sorry?
If you’re really sorry, why not just apologize and leave it at that?
And what does it mean when you explain: “I had to say it’?
“I had to say it” is a handy phrase because when you hear it, you know default intention is the culprit. When it’s happening to you, there can be an almost physical sensation, often in the throat, chest, or belly, that the words have to come out. “I had to say that” means “I had an urgent need to express this, regardless of the consequence.”
When you feel that sense building in your body, take a breath. This is the moment to pause and ask yourself, “What do I hope will happen when I let these words out?” Usually you’ll find, especially as you get to know your own habits and patterns, that your intention is to shut this down, to win the argument, to stop what’s going on, or some other default intention that won’t actually help you reach a productive long-term goal.
After you pause, you breathe, and you figure out your default intention (this can all happen fast, don’t worry!), you are ready to shift to a deliberate intention that doesn’t sabotage your goal. Maybe it’s to bring a new perspective to light, to advocate, to enlist support, or to discover new information.
This shift takes away the anxious, urgent energy that leads to you saying something you feel you need to apologize for, and replaces it with the capacity to connect with curiosity and empathy.