Accused of Harmful Behavior?  5 Steps for Allies (to Avoid Getting Defensive...)

By Amanda Huettner

It is never easy to hear that something you said or did caused someone else harm.  So much personal growth and healing can happen when we recognize our mistakes, even though it’s uncomfortable AF!  Not to mention, we have an opportunity to, like, stop hurting other people...

Here are some steps for the next time you are called upon to do better:

  1. View this as a good thing.  I don’t know about you, but if I was causing others harm, I’d want to know!  It takes a lot for someone to tell you your behavior is problematic, and they are really doing you a massive favour.  They could have chosen to avoid you and save themselves the headache and potential blow-back of confrontation.

  2. Avoid justifying your actions. We know “I didn’t mean it that way!” is on the tip of your tongue but please….just…don’t….say…it.  

  3. Acknowledge the person’s bravery. “Wow.  That couldn’t have been easy” is a great place to start.   Thank the person for their time and vulnerability.

  4. Ask for a moment if you feel you ARE going to react.  Responding immediately to a “call out” isn’t always the best timing.  It is ok to say you need a bit of time to reflect on the issue before being able to discuss it.  Just make sure you actually respond and don’t leave them hanging!

  5. Apologize authentically.  None of this “I’m sorry you were offended” or “that was not my intention” BS.  A real, genuine, humble apology:

    1. “Insert-harmful-behavior” was wrong.

    2. I am sorry for my behavior and that I hurt you (and undoubtedly others).

    3. I am committed to changing my behavior.

    4. BONUS!  Here are a few specific things I will do to change and grow.

Apologies are not the time for justification or excuses, they call for humility and a sincere commitment to fixing our errors.

This list is obviously not exhaustive!  Come out and learn with us on December 5th at See Something, Say Something: Confronting Harm for Women Leaders!