I’ve opened my mouth and managed to get both feet in there! Sure, I’ve done that before—we all have—but this time I’ve hurt someone who matters to me and that makes me feel terrible.
I jokingly say that I have a (self-diagnosed) disease that makes my lips work faster than my brain. I have a quick wit and a dry, sarcastic sense of humour that gets in me a lot of trouble. Regularly.
Only this time I wasn’t trying to be funny. It wasn’t a lighthearted conversation that got out of control. I was involved in a deep professional discussion in which there were very strong opinions being shared; there were some fundamental ideological differences that were not just different, they were personal.
We were talking about professional speakers, and how designations are awarded within our professional organization; whether to base it on merit or use a system tied to revenue.
When it was my turn to speak, I shared what I thought. I shared it emphatically, strongly and without compassion for someone with a different viewpoint. I didn’t realize that the woman sitting next to me (we’ll call her Patricia) had a very different opinion from me.
When I was finished, I looked around the room until my eyes fell upon Patricia. She was visibly upset, with tears in her eyes, and I realized that I had said too much, too strongly.
Dumb! Far from professional. A moment in time I instantly wished I could take back. I believed in what I was saying—but the way the message was received was not what I’d intended.
When you’re the person speaking, it is your responsibility to ensure the people you’re speaking to understand what you are trying to say. It is not their fault if they misunderstand. I’ve heard many people say, “You’re not listening to what I’m saying.” Perhaps the issue is not that they aren’t listening, perhaps it is your ability to clearly say what you are trying to say.
The person speaking is responsible for ensuring that everyone listening understands the message and the intent. If the words aren’t working, they have to choose new words. Perhaps their tone of voice is interfering with the message. That isn’t the listener’s fault; it is the speaker’s fault.
In any case, I messed up. I wasn’t focused on my point, I wasn’t thinking of other points of view. The way I shared my viewpoint wasn’t truly reflective of what I was trying to say. I was speaking, but not thinking about how what I was saying could be interpreted by others.
Because the meeting pretty much ended at that point, I made a point of not even leaving the table before I apologized to her. At this point I was shaken. Not because I felt that my point of view was wrong, but because I’d hurt someone with my viewpoint, which wasn’t my intention.
Like a true professional, Patricia thanked me.
That wasn’t enough for me. I found her again later in the day and I again stressed how sorry I was that my message had sounded so wrong. I took a moment to explain a bit more of what I had been trying to say. Both Patricia and I agreed that we had a different viewpoint, but that it shouldn’t have been expressed in a manner that could be hurtful to someone. It was because we both care so much about the subject we were speaking on that we had become emotional.
We hugged and I truly hope have repaired some of the damage my mouth caused to our professional relationship.
The next time that conversation is continued, I will be far more aware of the potential messages my point of view are conveying. I will take the time to think before I speak. I will be sensitive to the others who are emotionally involved in the conversation as well.
Sometimes all we need to do is wait for the entire message to make it to our brain before we share what is on our mind. However, sometimes we aren’t that patient and when we mess up, we must own the misunderstanding and we must fix it. Then, don’t do it again!