When You Make Someone Mad

Accountability Collaboration Kindness


Key Point: Ever make someone mad? Do you know the difference and benefit between explaining the intention of your behavior versus acknowledging the consequences? I wish I would have understood this principle earlier in my life. It would have helped me immensely with my relationships.

When I do something to upset someone else, it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to explain and justify my intention. Of course from my perspective, my behavior is usually totally understandable. Any reasonable person could see that, right? Wrong! The following is the BEST and most PRACTICAL advice from Peter Bregman’s HBR blog, What to Do When You’ve Made Someone Angry. Read it in its entirety if you want to. Here’s an excerpt:

“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.

What if you don’t think the other person is right — or justified — in feeling the way they do? It doesn’t matter. Because you’re not striving for agreement. You’re going for understanding…

Your job is to acknowledge their reality — which is critical to maintaining the relationship… If someone’s reality, as they see it, is negated, what motivation do they have to stay in the relationship?

The hardest part is our emotional resistance. We’re so focused on our own challenges that it’s often hard to acknowledge the challenges of others. Especially if we are their challenge and they are ours. Especially when they lash out at us in anger. Especially when we feel misunderstood. In that moment, when we empathize with them and their criticism of our behavior, it almost feels like we’re betraying ourselves. But we’re not. We’re just empathizing.

Here’s a trick to make it easier. While they’re getting angry at you, imagine, instead, that they’re angry at someone else. Then react as you would in that situation. Probably you’d listen and let them know you see how angry they are. And if you never get to explain your intentions? What I have found in practice — and this surprised me — is that once I’ve expressed my understanding of the consequences, my need to justify my intentions dissipates.

That’s because the reason I’m explaining my intentions in the first place is to repair the relationship. But I’ve already accomplished that by empathizing with their experience. At that point, we’re both usually ready to move on. And if you do still feel the need? You’ll still have the opportunity, once the other person feels seen, heard, and understood.

If we succeed in doing all this well, we’ll often find that, along with our relationships, something else gets better: Our behavior.”

Character Moves:

  1. Remember that when you make someone angry, constructively moving forward means striving for understanding, not agreement.
  2. The most important thing is to sincerely understand the consequences of your behavior and empathize with the other regarding the impact on them. Then shut up and just listen. 
  3. The next time you make someone mad, practice Bregman’s recommendations. They really work.

Acknowledging consequences in The Triangle,

– Lorne