How to Respond if you were disrespectful
Everyone has a moment when they have said or done something disrespectful to someone else that they regret. Here are four steps on how to respond in a way that shows the other person you care.
Notice how you’re feeling
When we behave in ways that are out of alignment with how we want to show up in the world, it’s common to feel deep shame or anger. We call these “trampoline emotions” for two reasons. First, they are likely to bounce you off in some wild directions — with responses like “what are you saying I’m racist!?” (when they aren’t calling you racist, but saying that something you did was racist), or “so I can’t express myself anymore?” (when the way that you expressed yourself had a silencing effect on others, or some people just fully shut down and can’t put a sentence together. We also call them trampoline emotions because they are designed to protect you from going under the trampoline — where you’ll oftentimes find deep hurt.
When you’re called out for being disrespectful, take a minute to notice how you are feeling. Are you angry? Ashamed? Hurt? Acknowledge those emotions. Remember that even if you didn’t intend to hurt that person, their hurt can still be real. For example, if I’m sleeping in bed beside my partner and in the middle of the night they elbow me in the face — the fact that they didn’t mean to (and in fact were asleep!) doesn’t affect the fact that my face hurts.
Intentions aren’t magic. Remember that they are talking about something you did, not who you are as a person and use this as an opportunity to show up as who you are: kind, caring, and a work-in-progress (don’t worry, we all are).
Try to understand what it’s like to walk in their shoes. What was this experience like for them? How did they feel when it happened? How do they feel now? What does resolution look like?
It’s normal to want to explain what you did and why you didn’t mean for it to have the impact that it did. To be sure, context can help the other person understand why you were disrespectful. But you also need to be curious about how your actions were perceived and what the impact was. Otherwise, you run the risk of your explanation looking like an “excuse” because you’re only willing to see your side of the story.
To lean into curiosity, you need to ask open questions, not leading ones. Questions like, “how did that make you feel?” and “what do you wish I had done instead?” are open questions — whereas leading questions like “so you’re saying I’m a jerk?” and “what is this world coming to?” are combative and tell the other person that you’re not able to hear the feedback or commit to treating others with respect.
Apologize for what you did
A quick tutorial on how to apologize: n apology should look like an “I”m sorry I….” statement not “I’m sorry you….” statement. Apologies take accountability. “I’m sorry I said that, did that, etc” is an apology. “I’m sorry you’re upset, feeling bad, etc” is not. Give a real apology that shows you care.
It can be hard to deliver an authentic apology when you’re swirling the emotions of shame, anger, and hurt associated with being disrespectful to someone. If you’re unable to apologize in the moment, tell the person how grateful you are that they communicated their concerns with you and that you’d like to have time to think about what happened a little more. Then, tell them when you can meet again. This shows them that you’re taking this seriously and not just brushing them off.
Commit to make amends
It’s not enough to stop at an apology. What will you do to prevent this from happening again?
This is rarely something you come up within the moment. You may be able to start having this conversation after you apologize, but you may need more time. You may consider asking the person/people you disrespected for feedback but remember: it’s not their responsibility to figure this piece out.
Remember, this is a lifelong learning journey. What are you learning at this moment that can guide how you show up in the future?
Have other thoughts on how to make an even better apology? Let us know! Email us at [email protected]