People talk about “being accountable” and “taking responsibility” like it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But let’s be real: it can be really stressful when someone tells you that your actions (or inactions) have perpetuated harm in some way. Especially when your actions were unintentional.
Years ago, I learned this really great strategy for coping with the fallout of and taking responsibility for my actions when they’ve caused harm and today I’m sharing that strategy with you in the hopes that they, too, will serve you well.
Whenever you find yourself in a sticky situation: CLAIM.
C stands for Center. Ground. Calm down. Whether that means taking a moment to yourself to process what just happened. Finding a way to ground in the moment by connecting to the Earth through your feet. Taking long, deep breaths. Clenching your fists or your jaw. Remembering to see the humanity of the other person. Forgiving yourself. Or anything else you can think of. Being told that you messed up can be hard to cope with in the moment, especially if the person who’s confronting you is coming at you from a place of anger and frustration. So do yourself a favour and Center.
L stands for Listen. Actively. Allow the other person to say their piece, fully, without interruption. Give them the space they need to speak their truth no matter how hurtful their words may be. Without interruption. When we interrupt the other person we often (unintentionally) silence the person (and sometimes even escalate the situation). We are conditioned to want the other person to understand us and our intentions before we understand them and their experience. Therefore, it’s important to witness their words. Their intonation. Their body language. Their energy. Without judgement. And once again, without interruption.
A stands for Acknowledge. Admit. Apologize.
Acknowledge, admit to, and apologize for the harm you caused. Here’s the thing, even though you may have no idea how you caused harm, the fact still remains that your actions created an unsafe (and likely, triggering) experience for the person who is bravely addressing the situation with you. And as conscious human beings, that’s something we always want to be mindful of.
Making an authentic apology means that you recognize that you can’t just apologize the problem away. Instead of using your apology as a strategy for ending the problem, use it as an opportunity to learn, expand, be vulnerable and grow.
I stands for Inquire. Question. Ask for clarification.
This is your opportunity (after you’ve apologized) to ask the person if you can ask a couple of questions to make sure that you fully understand what happened and why it triggered / offended / affected them the way that it did. If they say no, then respect that and move on. However, if they say yes, fire away. But remember to check your tone. When we don’t actively check our ego in these situations, the questions we ask can come off sounding like an interrogation laced with the energy of retaliation. You don’t want this. It will escalate the situation, create more harm and cut you off from truly learning anything from this experience. Don’t let that happen.
Use open ended questions. Don’t interrupt when they answer. Ask anything that will give you more clarity about how you detoured into harm. And ask it with love.
M stands for Move Towards Resolution.
By now, you should have a really good understanding of what happened and the role you played in creating an unsafe experience for the other person. You’ve apologized. The person experiencing the harm hopefully feels heard and confident that you understand their point of view. It’s time to move towards a resolution.
Start by asking them what an ideal resolution to this problem would look like for them. If they don’t know, ask them if they have any insights about what you can do in this moment to restore balance and reduce the likelihood of perpetuating more harm in this (or similar) situations in the future, on them or on others.
Depending on the situation, the person, and the energy you bring you may have someone who is willing to go there with you and really explain in detail what you can do to resolve the situation. In these cases, please be extremely grateful for this opportunity you have been given. It takes a lot of energy and courage for someone who has been harmed to a) confront the person who has harmed them and b) school that person on how they wish they were (and deserve to be) treated.
If the person who has confronted you is not interested in giving you additional information about how you’ve harmed them and what you could’ve done to avoid harming them, then don’t push. Thank them for sharing what they have shared with you and tell them that you will reflect on the conversation and do the necessary research to make sure this situation doesn’t repeat itself.
Either way, express your gratitude to the person who has confronted you. You have been presented with a unique opportunity to grow and show up as a better person than you were just one breath ago.
Other things to remember throughout this process:
Remember that you have choices in this process, even when you’ve caused harm. You can chose how you want to react. You can also choose to walk away if you feel like you’re being attacked. What’s important is that everyone involved feels safe enough to engage in a conversation that will bring about the maximum amount of healing for everyone involved.
Second, It’s okay to be uncomfortable; that’s when some of our best learning happens. Breathe through it. Take a break if you need to. Think about what you can learn about yourself in the discomfort. Find the opportunity to expand through your discomfort.
Finally, you’re allowed to have boundaries. If you need space, you’re allowed to take space. If you’re in a situation where you’re facilitating a workshop, a class, or a training you’re allowed to be clear about what can and what can’t be changed. Boundaries are important, but beware of the moments when you feel tempted to use your boundaries as an opportunity to avoid engaging in difficult conversations. Be mindful and use and implement your boundaries responsibly.