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6 Reasons Nice People Can Hurt Your Feelings

... and 4 tips to help them avoid it.

senai aksoy/Shutterstock
Source: senai aksoy/Shutterstock

It’s inevitable. People are going to hurt your feelings. Even nice people. Even people who love you. Last night, after several hours on Pinterest and a trip to a home décor store, I switched out our fireplace mantel decorations. I had tried to make changes before, but it’s an awkward, deep, corner fireplace, so it’s looked the same for nine years. This morning, admiring my work, I asked my husband what he thought. He said, “It’s better. I’ve wanted that pottery down from there since we moved in.”

I thought to myself, “What? He’s hated the pottery on the mantel all this time and he’s never said anything. How can that be? He voices his opinion on other things.”

It might seem like a small thing, but his comments hurt my feelings.

When I got to work, still upset, I tried to think of why people say things that are hurtful, especially when it seems out of character. I want to make one thing clear: I’m not talking about people who are abusive, but rather people who are generally well-meaning.

Here’s what I came up with:

  1. People say things without thinking. When he saw he had hurt my feelings my husband tried to recover: “I don’t know why I said that. It just popped out. I’m sorry.” I’ve done the same thing, blurting things out without thinking about how the other person might receive the feedback.
  2. People don’t know what kind of feedback you want. I hadn’t made it clear what kind of feedback I wanted. I actually wanted supportive feedback—and I definitely didn’t want a critique of my previous decorating efforts. But he didn’t know what I wanted because I hadn’t told him.
  3. People don’t know your triggers. Again, it's a trivial example of a larger issue, but that odd-shaped mantel had been a thorn in my side for years, because I can get a little obsessive about aesthetics. He didn’t realize he would hurt my feelings, or he wouldn’t have criticized—he’s not a mean person.
  4. People have other things on their mind. Reflecting on the exchange, I realized he was busy preparing for a big meeting at work. I’m sure he didn’t have the time to stop everything and appreciate my decorative handiwork.
  5. People have their own stories. Sometimes people say things and we have no idea why. For example, if someone says something hurtful to you at work, you don’t know if they just had an argument on the phone with their teenage daughter, or if they can’t pay their utility bill. We take things personally, but really, it might not have anything to do with us.
  6. We let people hurt our feelings. This is a tough one to accept, but no one really hurts our feelings. It’s the way we interpret a situation that results in our feelings being hurt or not. I’m reminded of the famous Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

4 Quick Tips for Speakers

  1. When asked for your opinion, take a brief pause before you speak.
  2. Consider, or ask, what kind of feedback the other person may be looking for.
  3. Let someone know if you don’t have the time to talk—and when you will.
  4. Remember that words have power.

4 Quick Tips for Listeners

  1. Remember, it’s not always about you.
  2. Ask for what you want.
  3. Make sure you’re not embellishing the story. (I started playing over in my mind how much my husband hated the pottery on the mantel, but he may not have even used the word “hate.”)
  4. Let it go and move on.

PS: When I got home from work I found an apology note from my husband. It wasn't necessary, but much appreciated!

Barbara Markway, Ph.D.
Source: Barbara Markway, Ph.D.

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