Lessons from inadvertently hurting a friend

I have inadvertently and stupidly caused grief to a good friend – and probably have lost a friendship as a result.

The experience has also caused me much heartache.

I can’t turn the clock back but at least I do everything I can to avoid repeating my mistakes and somehow grow from any new insights and learning.

When I use the word ‘stupidity’, I employ it not in the conventional sense of meaning ‘low intelligence’. Rather, I use the definition from my book ‘Overcoming Stupidity’ – of inflexible thinking, without asking questions, leading to lesser outcomes. (We all know clever people who do stupid things.)

The context for my learning was that I made a promise to a friend, and just two hours later, I seemingly contradicted my words through my actions.

My act caused annoyance, bewilderment, anger and pain to a good person, who quite frankly needs all the help and support he deserves – and not seemingly reveal myself as a false friend, appearing to turn, betray, or seemingly mislead and destroy what will be seen as a misplaced sense of trust.

We are all values driven. A belief dear to my heart, is that in relationships there is unity in critical things, diversity on important things and generosity in all things.

One painful lesson is to recognise that what you perceive as ‘important’ may be regarded by the other party as ‘critical’, where any non-alignment may be seen as a form of disloyalty. In your listening you need to tune into the relative saliency of an issue.

I now ask myself, is the point of principle that you hold really that important, when weighed up against the consequences of your actions – in this case causing emotional hurt to a friend?

Consequently, I have vowed to re-sharpen my listening skills, to hopefully learn from the episode, to be more aware of adopting better empathetic listening – with your ears listening from the other person’s world.

I have also learnt that sometimes you need to double check the territory before making promises, because the situation may move on in some way.

I’m reminded of a silly incident in my life when my dear wife, once dropped me off for a meeting while she parked the car. She seemed baffled how my mood and temper was transformed within seconds, from saying sweet farewells to a cursing rage: in-between she had inadvertently run over my foot with our very heavy 4×4!

It highlights how integrity – matching your actions with your words – is the most powerful form of communication: listen to what I do, rather than what I say – and how both sides need to take into account the context for each other’s actions.

On reflection, given previous commitments, I should have tempered my actions on what I saw as a point of principle: I should have listened better to the context and how my actions would be interpreted by others.

It demonstrates the existence of a higher level of listening – ‘pro-active listening’ where you don’t just engage empathetic listening from the other side’s perspective, but you then demonstrate in your subsequent behaviours, that listening has taken place.

Another lesson is that your options are rarely black-and-white. Most situations have a nuanced range of options, rather than just a straight ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

I recall the example I used in my book ‘Creativity in Public Relations’ where at the height of their fame, Ringo Starr of the Beatles was asked if he was a ‘Mod’ or a ‘Rocker’; coming down on either side would alienate the other group. Quick as a flash he retorted: “I’m a Mocker!”.

You usually have more than one option when responding to a situation.

At the moment I feel mortified, how I have hurt a friend. If I could do things different, I really, really would. The past is past; what you can do however, is to learn from, grow and somehow go forward stronger, albeit scarred.

I recently used the metaphor of ‘scar’ in a communication campaign where there are two sides deeply divided. Creating the concept of ‘scar’ helps one side identify the wound they still feel fresh, while also creating a common ground for the other side although seeing the wound as a thing of the past, it is there as a permanent reminder of  previous pain and suffering.

Scars can be good in marking the healing of an open wound, yet also as touchstone, a reference point going forward, to heed the lessons of previous actions, past mistakes and painfully wrong decisions.

I now have new emotional wounds, possible scars – and life does go on, learning, growing, with the good hopefully outweighing the bad.

I’m reminded of the definition that good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.

We all make mistakes. The lesson is not to repeat them.

Elton John once wrote that ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’. In this instance, I actually think ‘Sorry’ has been the easiest word to say.

Moving on – leaving any pain in the past, although mindful of its lessons for the future, is actually the harder thing to do.

In my brand story telling classes I share the story narrative of ‘Journey and Return’, where the Hero goes on a journey, returning back to the starting point, but changed by the experience.

The worlds of my friend and I are changed: we have both been on a journey this last week.

In the meantime, we all need to listen – and listen better – and to appreciate different perspectives of saliency, to grow from our experiences, and be able to exercise better judgment for the future – as well as serving to be vigilant about the ever-present threat of unintended stupidity in our world

One tiny positive, is that since this episode I have done at least two things differently, where I am now hopefully more sensitive to the feelings and emotions of others, and changed my behaviours as a result of my learning.

Time is a great healer they say.

We’ll see.


One thought on “Lessons from inadvertently hurting a friend

  1. I was really moved when I read this. I’m sure we’ve all done things to hurt others at some point in our lives, whether it’s putting our foot in it, uttering a careless thought or sticking to our principles even if it means a clash with a friend. In my experience, it always feel worse to do the hurting than it does to be hurt. I think it’s all in your favour that you recognise the hurt and the reasons for it – the friendship stands far more chance of survival than if you’d just sailed on obliviously.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *