I didn’t mean to, but I offended someone. I sent an email that I thought was just me sharing a possible insight, but it blew up in my face. Emails can be like that. As I worked through the aftermath I thought about the components needed in the clean-up of such a mess.
1) Guard your attitude. In almost every miscommunication the most common reaction is to get defensive. Talking through things with humility goes a long way in these cases and paves the way for understanding and healing to begin.
2) Own the initial burden of unclear wording. Whenever there is a misunderstanding it is just that – a missed understanding. I started by rephrasing my intent – I didn’t mean to offend or attack and I took ownership of the fact that somehow I missed the mark of clear communication.
3) Ask for forgiveness. Clear and simple. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but my words did hurt and I am truly sorry that happened.
4) Recognize what is at stake. Tell the other person why it is important to you that this gets cleared up.
5) Share what you were thinking. Try to rephrase what you meant in different and clearer wording, preferably in person and not in writing so the intended tone can be heard.
6) Talk about your feelings. Open your heart and give what you were feeling as the back story regarding the incident.
7) Commit to working through it. Let the other person know you want to hear what is going on from their side – what they are thinking and feeling and reassure them that you want to come out of this closer and not farther apart.
So a bullet point follow up might sound something like this.
• I can totally see how you would have read that the way you did.
• I am sorry I didn’t word that differently.
• Can you forgive me?
• Our relationship is really important to me.
• I thought you would want to know what I saw.
• I wrote what I did out of concern for you and also out of concern for how you may be perceived by others.
• I really want to work through this and want to hear what was going on from your side.
So, whether you messed up in an email or in person I hope this can help. There is a battle on for clear communication and healthy conflict resolution. Let’s work together to be on the same team!
I’d love to tell you that I just came up with all of this myself, but it is actually a compilation of a few good books on the subject. Here’s my top three:
Crucial Conversations by by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler
The DNA of Relationships by Gary Smalley
Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott