A few weeks ago, I received an email from someone saying that they felt that I wronged them with something I did. I was faced with two options, defend my position and dig my heels into the ground or accept the fact that my actions unintentionally offended the other party, take responsibility and apologize for offending them, and right the wrong that I had committed. This is something that we’re all faced with every now and then.
Through our lifetime there have been, and will be many more, instances where our actions unintentionally hurt someone else’s feelings. Our actions were so non-deliberate that we are completely blindsided when someone approaches us with a claim that we did something wrong to them.
The easiest reaction, and often our initial reaction, is to become defensive and either reject the other person’s claim as an over-reaction or returning their message with a “You completely misunderstood me.” or “You’re completely wrong!”. By deflecting the blame back onto the other person, we negate their feelings and blame them for the way that they feel. This rarely defuses the situation and more commonly escalates the matter into a full out argument and leaves both parties feeling worse about the situation.
We need to realize that what the other person is doing is not launching a personal attack at us, but instead he/she is expressing the way that they felt as a result of something that we did. How can you argue the way a person feels? Feelings are emotions and emotions are not always logical, although in this particular case they were logical.
By arguing with the way a person feels you’re attaching your logic, or sometimes stubbornness, to their feelings – that’s a recipe for disaster. You are not them, and they are not you. Put in the exact same situation chances are that you both would react in very different ways. Usually neither of those ways are wrong or right, they’re just coming from two different people who lived different lives, experienced different things, and therefor have different perspectives on day to day events and interactions.
Getting back to my situation from the other week, I took the second stance. I sought first to understand their perspective before trying to get them to understand mine (Thank you, Stephen Covey!). After listening to his point of view, I understood how my actions unintentionally wronged him. I took responsibility for my actions, apologized for the harm that I caused him, explained my reasoning and noble intentions, apologized again, and I followed through on my commitment to right the wrong.
A few weeks later we went out for coffee and developed not only a personal friendship, but also found ways to help each other grow from a business standpoint.
Rather than gaining an enemy, I made a powerful new friend and business ally.
Here are my two favorite books on the topics of effective communication, integrity, and interpersonal relationships:
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie