Sticks and Stones…
By Laura J. Rediehs
Professor Redieh’s Three-Step Program for Responding to Verbal
When you find yourself hurt and upset by what someone has said, ask
if there is something you yourself can do that will help you
to recover. Taking the following three steps can be enormously helpful,
not only for yourself, but also for everyone involved.
Step 1: Look again at the painful situation and try to find one place
where the other person may have made a good point, or at least uttered an honest
and understandable expression of his or her own pain.
Step 2: Look again at the words or event and, this time, look for one place
where what the person said or did hurt or offended you in a way that you feel
is unjustified. Try to clarify exactly what was misunderstood or misperceived
regarding your own actions, words or intentions. Just one example --
even if 99% of that episode was unjustified, pick the most important instance.
Step 3: If this wasn't really directly about you, forgive the person--you
have clarified your own continued worthiness, so you may be ready now to move
on. If this was about you, or for other reasons you feel it would
be good to respond, plan your response carefully. Should you write an
e-mail, and if so, should it be public or private, and why? Should you
meet with the person one-on-one? Should you invite a neutral party? Whether
you respond in writing or in person, the nature of your response is clear--simply
make the two points from steps 1 and 2, in order.
Since a meeting is usually the more challenging approach, let’s
consider that scenario in some detail. First, from step 1, affirm
the good point that the person made, or acknowledge sympathy with the
person’s pain. It is important to realize that this step
is about the other person, not about you. This
step has enormous power. It will make the other person feel much
better and will take the edge off of his or her anger and begin to
build trust. You will no longer seen as the enemy. People
do want to be heard and understood -- especially those people
who express themselves badly and hurtfully!
Give the person a chance to respond, stay with him or her, listen
sympathetically, and then, when the time is right, move on to your
next point--what you learned from step 2. Here, you say something
like, “I felt hurt when you said..., because....” Use this
as an opportunity to clarify your own good intentions. Now this
is about you. Simply express your own pain (briefly),
but mostly express what you were trying to do. The point here
is to correct the misperception of you on this one point, to offer
reassurance that you are a good person trying to do the right thing.
Again, give the person time to respond. If you've conducted
the first part of the conversation well, the response may simply be
an apology. If instead it’s defensive, try to quell this
by saying things like, “I’m just trying to help you understand
where I’m coming from,” to shift the attention gently back
That's it. Let go of all the rest. End the conversation
with grace and gratitude. If follow-up is needed on other points
of your disagreement, save it for another day. If you have a
third person present, that person's main job is to make sure that neither
of you tries to push further at this point. If more needs to
be done, schedule a follow-up meeting; plan this one carefully too,
to be as simple and focused as possible.
This process may not be easy, but it works. Its power is that
at the very least, it helps you to deal with your own pain and makes
you a stronger person. We cannot control most of what happens
to us: once it has happened, it has happened. But we do
have control over our responses, and this way of responding does amazing
things. It helps us learn not to be so afraid of those who hurt us.
It helps us become strong enough to acknowledge our own shortcomings
without becoming self-destructive. And it helps us affirm our value
and learn to express our own good intentions more clearly.
Assistant Professor of Philosophy Laura Rediehs is a member of Faculty
Council and a past member of the Spiritual and Religious Life Committee;
she was one of the facilitators at the 2004 Laurentian Leadership Weekend
forum on academic freedom and civil discourse