Effective communication is a tricky skill to master at the best of times.
When you are under the pressure of an interview, it can often be the case that you open your mouth before you engage your brain. You want to show the interviewers that you can answer their questions, but, in your haste, the answers do not always come out exactly as intended.
You might say something stupid and immediately regret it, or you might have a facepalm moment when you replay the conversation in the train on the way home. “What on earth possessed me to say something like that?”
Just speaking from my personal experience: I once called an interviewer “Mum” (she looked uncannily like her), I mispronounced a CEO’s name three times before I was corrected, I lied about being an excel whizz (only to fail an impromptu test), and there are countless occasions when I came up with incomprehensible answers to the simplest of questions.
The words sometimes just don’t come out right.
(That is why I enjoy writing so much – you have time to collect your thoughts and select your words).
I am sure that your interview answers would come out very differently if you had a few minutes to write them down, but that isn’t the way human communication works.
It is immediate and it is imperfect.
The listener instinctively understands that. The best listeners read between the lines to reach the true meaning, not taking your words literally, but seek to understand the direction of your thoughts. Yes, every now and again, you might say something that doesn’t fit with this direction, but they will reject that as the dissonance simply won’t make sense.
Yes, you said something stupid, but it won’t matter to them.
As long as you don’t keep spouting rubbish for the duration of the interview, that is.
But how should you react if you realise you said something stupid?
Personally, I believe that doing nothing and moving on is not an option. If the stupid comment or behaviour makes you cringe, it will probably make the listener cringe too. A bit of humorous acknowledgement goes a long way in the immediate aftermath, or maybe a small line of explanation in the post-interview “thank you” email.
Admitting your mistakes is one of the hallmarks of a strong person and laughing off a stupid comment is a great way of showing your future employer how comfortable you are in your own skin.
If you “own” your stupidity, they will buy into that part of you too.