In our current climate, disagreement and miscommunication seem to be happening more often.
Sometimes, even though we don’t mean to, we offend someone. One person says something, but the listener hears something else. Or someone says something they believe is acceptable only to quickly find that their audience didn’t feel the same way.
It’s inevitable. It will happen to us all at one point or another. So, what do you do when someone says something that offends you? Or, how do you apologize for/avoid offending others?
When someone says something that offends you-
Take a deep breath. Focus on breathing in and breathing out slowly, counting to six as you breathe in and out. Taking the time to focus intensely on your breath gives you a chance to decide what you need to do next. This gives you time to distract yourself from any knee-jerk reactions of anger or sadness. It also gives you a chance to decide if and how you need to excuse yourself from the situation.
Remember that most likely, this person didn’t intend to offend you. They probably were just thinking about themselves and interested in expressing their own opinion. This person probably didn’t think about things from your perspective. Remember this, most likely, what they said isn’t personal.
Avoid an argument. Nod to show you’re listening, but not to show that you agree with them. Try asking questions to clarify without actually saying that you disagree. Rather, give them a chance to explain their opinion. Perhaps they phrased things in a way that was offensive but they really meant something else. Sometimes, we make bold statements that don’t reflect our deeper thoughts. When a person is asked to explain why they said something, they often try to use more clear, sensible and acceptable ways to defend their position. This makes it easier for the two of you to find common ground.
Change the topic. Ignore the offensive comment and shift the topic of conversation to something neutral. Are you at work? There is probably some work-related question that you can ask. Or ask them about something else that is going on in their personal lives. People tend not to push a controversial topic when they see that the other party isn’t interested in either agreeing or arguing with them.
Agree to disagree. If, for some reason, the person wants to continue to push the subject, say that the two of you will have to agree to disagree. It makes it clear where you stand without getting into an argument. It also makes it less personal. You aren’t trying to tell them that they
are wrong, just that you disagree with them. But you aren’t engaging in a point-by-point argument with them about the nature of the disagreement.
How to avoid saying something that offends someone-
Is your subject of conversation based on the idea that the person you are talking to already agrees with you? Is your topic of conversation about politics, religion, or topics that are impolite for the workplace? It’s probably safest to just avoid these subjects altogether. Unless someone else brings it up or you already know where they stand, it is better to keep a friendly relationship with others than to strain your relationship by saying something that might not be well received.
Did you already offend someone? A sincere apology goes a long way. You don’t have to explain your position or agree with the person you’ve offended; you need to show them that you really do regret offending them. Try to avoid using the word “but…” in your apology. When you say “sorry, but…” it makes your apology look insincere.
Repairing relationships isn’t always easy but showing that you care about the other person and didn’t intend to offend them can go a long way!