Work is a strange place. We’re paid to be there, and yet, by virtue of spending so much time with our coworkers, we almost form an ersatz family. No wonder, then, that Peter Bregman’s post about what to do when you’ve made someone angry starts out with an anecdote involving his wife, and being late to dinner.
“But what does that have to do with my colleagues, and their unreasonable dismay?” You ask. Everything. Because Bregman’s story proceeds from his personal life to our public behavior at work, with empathy as the key factor in managing both.
“It’s stunningly simple, actually,” he writes. “When you’ve done something that upsets someone — no matter who’s right — always start the conversation by acknowledging how your actions impacted the other person. Save the discussion about your intentions for later. Much later. Maybe never. Because, in the end, your intentions don’t matter much.”
To make this easier, Bregman suggests imagining the person who’s mad at you is mad at someone else. In that situation, you probably wouldn’t start justifying the other person’s actions. You’d just listen.
Afterward, you might find that you don’t even care if you ever have a chance to explain your intentions. Once the relationship is repaired, the impulse to explain yourself might dissipate.
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