Why are we so hesitant to tell people when they’ve said something hurtful to us? We worry that our intention (to end the hurt) will be misunderstood and fear even a gentle confrontation may backfire and perhaps escalate. Mastering a few simple tactics can dramatically improve your relationships.
Choose your words carefully – Perhaps the comment was thoughtless, but unintended. Know what you’re going to say in advance. Be honest and straightforward. Speak only to the incident, refrain from including previous incidents. Focus on what upset you and explain why.
Be prepared for all outcomes – After you’ve expressed your concerns, listen attentively to the reply and understand that the person may disagree with you. Be open to new information that may make you reconsider your position.
Write a letter – but don’t always send it – writing down your thoughts and feelings gives you a chance to communicate your exact feelings without being interrupted. But hold the letter for several days to reassess your feelings. You don’t want to confront someone in anger but remember that a letter does not allow for the give and take of an in-person discussion.
Use “I feel…” statements – It sounds basic but starting a conversation with “you” statements can sound accusatory and put the other person on the defensive, preventing open and productive dialogue.
Be specific – Give concrete examples when discussing an incident that bothered you. “I feel like you take it for granted that we’ll cover for you when you don’t call or show up.” or “Perhaps you did not perceive your comment as being racist, but I felt that it was.”
Telling someone they’ve hurt you is never easy. If it was accidental, the person will have learned something; if it was deliberate, the person will be put on notice that what they said is unacceptable. No matter what the outcome, you’ll know you’ve done your best.