As I was driving my daughter home from school one day we discussed her most recent, holiday inspired, work of art. I suggested that we temporarily place it where we had hung her “Blue Dog” painting. She agrees…and then a few moments later asks, “Don’t you like my Blue Dog?” Surprised, as I absolutely love her art work and frequently tell her so, I said “Of course I do.” – Then I went on to explain the limited space we have for hang-able art. “But” she says, “I heard you say you didn’t like ‘Blue Dog’”. And she was right. I had said exactly that. What she didn’t know however, was that I wasn’t referring to her artwork, but a restaurant I wasn’t fond of. That conversation had happened two weeks earlier. Right in front of her. And I never gave it a thought.
For two weeks my daughter sat with that criticism while her Blue Dog hung prominently in our home.
Why does this matter to you?
This misunderstanding hits at the core of how many conflicts develop. My daughter heard me right – but understood me wrong. How could she have known – or even anticipated that? How did this impact her for the two weeks she sat on it? How often were her emotional outbursts and challenging behavior (which were worse during that timeframe) directly related to her being hurt by me?
In both our workplace and our personal lives we are capable of experiencing these misunderstandings. We feel certain and convinced that the hurt was intentional – How could anything else be the case? And yet, the Blue Dog teaches us.
Here are the lessons I hope to bring:
Be Brave. When you feel hurt, talk about it with the person that hurt you. (If a 6 years old can do it, so can you).
Give the Benefit of the Doubt. It may look, sound, or feel like someone is being unkind, unfair, or intentionally hurtful. But before you make that determination, talk to him/her. There may be more going on than meets the eye.
Ask Questions. Don’t look to prove your case or find evidence supporting your belief. Instead, ask questions to find out more information. It’s ok to be persistent if you are confused by the initial answers. Had my daughter simply stopped asking questions when I said “Of course (I like her Blue Dog)”, she may have thought I was lying or trying to deceive her.
Be Open to the Conversation. When you are being asked questions about your intent, or more to the point, being told you’ve hurt someone, listen to them. Try to understand where your actions have created pain or harm for someone, and offer clarity, perspective, or even an apology when appropriate.
Forgive. Hurt, caused with or without malice, can bring out the worst in us. My daughter had to make peace with the knowledge that I had not intended to hurt her so she could release her pain. I had to let go of my irritation with the anger she had been displaying. We both needed to forgive each other.
I was reminded of all this and more from my daughter. I thanked her for her courage. I encouraged her to continue to confront the things that hurt her. I forgave her for the behavior that had come out of that experience.
I encourage you to do the same.