As humans, we have this terrible habit – to hurt others. Most often it’s not intentional. But when it happens, it creates a gap in the relationship. When we hurt someone or someone hurts us, there is usually one way to heal the hurt. That way is doing it together through a process I’ll describe with my 3 Step Process For Healing After We’ve Hurt Someone.
As a former relationship counselor, senior director, manager, and now CEO of two businesses – I’ve learned that cleaning up past hurts always looks the same. Whether you’re dealing with clients, staff, your kids, your partner, or someone you barely know – the cleanup work looks the same.
While we may resist going back where damage and pain was done, I’ve learned from my friend, psychologist and 19x Oprah Guest, Dr. Harville Hendrix, the sooner we do the cleanup work the better. Repeated personal experiences have taught me this to be true. The longer I wait to address an issue the more time it has to brew, fester, and become a bigger issue.
Since it’s scary to go back and admit we messed up, most of us avoid it. Since it’s hard to address a problem head-on, most of us won’t do it unless we have to. Sadly, avoiding it or waiting only makes it worse. So, naturally, how do we come back and talk about a wound caused after-the-fact? How do create healing after the damage has already been done?
The First Two Minutes Matter The Most
According to Dr. John and Julie Gottman, when couples discuss a problem it’s the first two minutes that matters most. While the Gottman’s are talking about an intimate relationship, it’s important for you to know that is also true for any relationship – because every relationship is quite similar to an intimate partnership. If you’re rude to a boss they’ll get offended, if you say something mean to your partner they’ll get upset too. The rules of all relationships are basically the same. So, when you apply these rules to one relationship, notice how it can also apply to any other kind of relationship you have.
In the research by the Gottman Institute, they found that how a person brings up a problem is critical to the outcome. Next, comes how we pay attention and listen to the emotions expressed by our partner, coworker, or friend. If you’ve been hurt and you start by addressing the problem with a combative attitude, it’s likely going to lead to further conflict. If someone tells you they feel slighted and you don’t empathize and listen, it won’t work out well either.
Remember it’s the first two minutes – so if someone tells us they feel mad because of something we did or said – we can help create healing by acknowledging the other person. We don’t have to agree, we don’t have to admit anything, we can simply listen. Nod our heads and say, “I hear you feel hurt. I am sorry about that.”
Acknowledge What You’ve Heard, It’ll Deescalate Any Situation
By merely acknowledging that we’ve heard our partner, friend, or coworker feels hurt, we can easily deescalate any painful emotions. In Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s iconic book, Nonviolent Communication, he goes on to explain how powerful it is to simply to acknowledge the painful emotions of someone who has been hurt by us. It’s simple, powerful, and helps to quickly create healing.
We can acknowledge what we’ve heard by simply saying a phrase such as, “I hear that you feel (insert the emotion you heard).” A few emotions are; hurt, frustrated, angry, upset, or sad.
After you acknowledge the emotion, you can move onto asking questions.
Ask Questions To Move The Healing Along
When we hear someone feels slighted by us, it’s easy to think we know what they mean. It’s easy to react to what we’re hearing and what we think we heard, but often times what we hear and what the other person is saying isn’t the same. No matter how well I think I know what I heard, I’ve experienced misinterpreting on too many occasions to know better now. Instead of reacting, try asking a few questions. In my experience I’ve found that it’s quite normal to hear one thing but have the other mean something else. In the same vein, I’ve also experienced someone being reacting to one thing and later finding out they were upset about something completely unrelated.
Empathizing and repeating what you’ve heard is the first line of deescalation, now you can bring deeper clarity through asking questions. The key to healing is being heard and feeling like someone cares.
When we empathize we let the other person know we care and when we ask questions we communicate a deep sense of, “I care.” That caring is the ultimate healing bomb that is essential to fully helping sanitize the pain caused.
Ask What The Need Is
Under all hurts there is a need. When someone says, “I feel upset that you said that to me” they are also saying, “I have this need.” If we empathize and ask questions, we’ll often be able to find the need that is there, but not always, and by using questions we can hear directly from our partner (coworker or friend).
No healing conversation is complete until we hear what the other person needs. If our friend says, “I feel upset that you didn’t show up on time yesterday” we can empathize to start the healing process. With questions we can clarify and soon we can ask, “What is that you are needing?” This question is powerful. It often helps us find the solution. It often helps us understand what we can do to help the other person feel cared about and completely heard.
The process to helping heal a past wound that we’ve caused is simple. It isn’t always easy, but it is simple. Empathize, ask questions and ask what is needed.