When Feelings Get Hurt
I recently offended someone on my team. And that made me feel bad. I was wrong. What was more humbling was that I had no idea that I had offended that person.
In this article, I want to share with you how hurt feelings should be handled on a team—by both the offender and the offended. It’s a three-step process that I followed a few weeks ago when this happened to me.
When feelings get hurt and are not dealt with in a healthy way, one of three things usually occurs:
- The offender has no idea, so the hurting continues, and an unhealthy relationship is formed.
- The offended harbors it in and says nothing, but avoids the relationship or retaliates in some other way.
- The issue is brought up, but is not really dealt with in a healthy manner.
In each case, the relationship is damaged. And when this happens in the context of a team, everyone suffers. I will present here a discipline for team members to adopt and apply when feelings are hurt. As a matter of fact, these principles should be discussed before there is ever an issue, and reinforced and practiced when issues arise.
Step One: Acknowledge
First, the offense must be brought out into the open by either the offended or the offender. We must deal with issues as early as possible. Do not ignore it, or brush it under the rug. But be careful to wait for the right time.
Step one is the responsibility of both the offender and offended. Meaning, if you offended someone and you sense it, acknowledge it quickly. If, as in my case, you had no idea you hurt someone, hopefully the offended person is not too afraid to approach you and say something like, “Hey Wes, I was a little hurt when you said…”
If you are offended and don’t say anything, it is really an injustice to the relationship. I consider myself a fairly sensitive person, and yet I still offended my coworker. If she had not talked to me about it, I really would have never realized it. I appreciate her giving me the chance to rectify the situation.
Step Two: Reflect
As soon as I found out that I had offended my team member, my first reaction to myself was not too sympathetic. I thought, “What? Why was she offended? I may have been a bit direct, but I meant no harm. Why doesn’t she trust me? Have I not demonstrated before that I care? Oh my…” Many times our first reaction when we hear that we offended someone is to think that it’s not our fault and that something is wrong with them.
The right thing for me to do was to reflect on me, not her. After I briefly felt that it was not my fault, I immediately started thinking in different terms: “How could I have been so emotionally unaware that I did not even know I had hurt her?” I thought to myself, “Here I am, a writer on leadership, and a person who always preaches the importance of being careful with others. How could I have not even known?” More importantly, these thoughts were leading me to ask the key questions, “How can I grow? And in what area can I improve myself, so I can I become better?”
The reason this step is key, is because it focuses our thinking on the right person. Ourselves. Reflecting on how we can learn and grow is always a powerful step of healing for us and for others.
Step Three: Apologize
This is the most important step. Simply say, “I am sorry I offended you.” Please, do not say, “I am sorry you got offended.” If that is what you think, you need to work on step two a little longer.
It almost brings tears to my eyes when I discover that I have hurt someone unecessarily. It makes no difference if I believe they are being too sensitive. People are at different stages in their growth and confidence. I believe that God brings different people into our lives for us to care for, nurture, and love like He loved us. So, we must apologize.
Here is how I apologized, “Julie, what I said yesterday was very hurtful. I was wrong to say it the way I did. While I wanted to communicate something I thought was important to the team and our relationship, I was too overbearing and insensitive. I value you very much, and I care deeply about your well-being. Please forgive me. And while I will do my best not do this again in the future, kindly let me know when I do. You have full permission to come to me and let me know.”
On the other hand, if the way you said something was the right way, meaning, it was warranted to say something firmly, you could approach the person this way, “John, I am so sorry I offended you. That was not my intention at all. It was the only way I knew how to communicate this very important issue to you. I hope you accept that from me, because I care about our relationship and your role on this team. Will you accept my apology?”
Dear leader, reach deep into the well of regret and give people the most sincere apology you can muster. That’s when healing starts. After that, the goal is that both people will move on and not dwell on what happened.
And finally, a word of caution…
This three-step process may need to be practiced more vigorously in the beginning of a relationship. But I would hope that as a relationship develops, you find that you offend one another less and less. If you still have to practice these principles frequently, after knowing someone for years, something may be wrong. Our expectations of our relationships should be that as we get to know one another, we find mutual methods of communication and maintaining boundaries. With time, our relationships should be maturing and improving. Early in the relationship, agree to handle issues in this manner. Agree on this practice and other healthy principles to strengthen your connection.
Finally, I must state that sometimes the truth does offend, and there is no way around it. However, so many people use this as an excuse to be offensive all the time. 99.99% of the time, healthy communication should not involve offending.
Acknowledge. Reflect. Apologize. Three simple steps that can help you build great relationships.
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