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get offended

By: Mark Merrill


As a public speaker and former attorney, I know the importance of choosing your words carefully. But I have to admit that there have been many times when I have said or done something that has offended someone without my intending to do so. And I have been on the receiving end of words and actions that have bruised.

To some degree, that’s just life. We’re all imperfect people, hopefully doing our best to get along with others. But it also seems to me that we are living in an increasingly angry world. So many people are up in arms about something or another, demanding this or refusing that. They spew angry words over the smallest slight or wrongdoing.

Unresolved issues are bad for you: when you hold a grudge against someone, you end up robbing yourself. But there’s a right way to handle a wrong. You are more likely to reach a good resolution with a softer approach. So whether it’s a disagreement you have had with your spouse or a problem with a business partner, consider these 10 ways to respond well when you get offended.

1. Be cautious. Feelings flair up, but be careful about letting them dictate the way you respond.  Sometimes the best response is no response. But if a response is necessary, sometimes it’s good to wait and take a moment to review what happened and how you can gently respond.

2. Be calm. If you go looking for a fight, chances are you are going to find one. If you have decided you do need to address a wrong you feel has been done to you, ensure you have let go of any intense feelings that might cloud your thinking and speaking.

3. Be confident. Your attitude and manner will go a long way toward setting the tone of the conversation you are going to have. The kind of approach that communicates, “Hey, I am sure we can sort this out” is much more inviting to the other person than, “Boy, are you in trouble.”

4. Be conciliatory. Approach the situation and the person with a peacemaking attitude. An offense leaves a rift in a relationship, whether that’s between a husband and a wife, or a customer and a business—make it clear you’re wanting to bridge the gap that has been created.

5. Be clear. Think through what you want to communicate ahead of time. It might even help you to jot down the main points so they are clear to you. Present your view of what happened simply so that the other person can understand where you are coming from. Here are some more guidelines for Healthy Communication.

6. Be concise. Keep it fairly short and to the point. Most people find it hard to accept criticism anyway, and even more so if they feel they are getting a long lecture. By being brief, you may help them to better hear what you’re saying. Don’t get sidetracked by extraneous details: “And another thing, you always….”

7. Be circumspect. Avoid rushing to judgment. Share your side of the situation, but be open to hearing theirs too. Present the facts that are clear, but be careful about apportioning motive or intent. Remember that “I” statements invite, while “you” statements accuse. So tell them, “I felt hurt when you…” rather than, “You hurt me when…”

8. Be curious. Ask a lot of questions, rather than just stating “the facts” as you see them. Clarifying might change your understanding of what happened, or help the other person see how they hurt you. “What did you mean when you said…?” “What were you trying to say when…?” This requires really tuning into their words; here’s How to Tell if You Are a Good Listener.

9. Be commanding. While seeking peace, don’t allow yourself to be walked all over or dismissed. You may need to learn How to Resolve Conflict with a Passive-Aggressive Spouse. Wanting to restore the relationship doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat. You can be quietly insistent—whether that’s refusing to ignore your spouse’s cutting comment as “just their way,” or telling the call center person you’re speaking with their solution is not satisfactory and you need to speak to their supervisor.

10. Be congratulatory. The goal of bringing your offense to someone else is not to make them feel bad but to clear things between the two of you. When that happens and they offer an apology or take steps to correct whatever was wrong, be appreciative. Thank them and acknowledge their willingness to make things right.