How do you respond when you’re horrified by what someone says? Here’s a real example from a workshop I facilitated. A participant shared a deeply moving story about his best friend dying in his arms. Without a moment of silence or a glance of empathy, another participant said, “Enough about you. I came here to learn. I want to hear from the teacher.”
Ouch! I was dumbfounded, trying without success to hold both people with compassion. I used some version of “Yes, and” to bring the group’s attention back to the person who was still sitting there with his dying friend in his arms. In hindsight, I wish I’d known about the practice of “oops” and “ouch."
Saying “oops” or “ouch” is a practice adopted by Leadership that Works and our circles to express our hurt or regret. This practice deepens our connection to our humanness and authenticity. We assume everyone has a positive intent but we get real about it when the impact is hurtful.
The simple act of saying “ouch” and naming what hurts opens the door to dialog. Instead of shouting out how insensitive someone is or insisting they be banished, or talking behind their back, we get to be real with each other.
Likewise, “oops” is a way of recognizing and expressing regret when someone is hurt by what we say or do. If we say something hurtful and recognize that we would like to rewind the tape of life, instead of kicking ourselves, or hiding under a rock, we can simply say “oops.” From there, we can get curious by asking questions like, “What hurt you or angered you about what I said?” We can even ask for help from others about what we could have done differently.
What if we could ask for and get a do-over? How would that change the way we create safe space for taking risks and allow us to be more real with each other?
When people say things that we find offensive, we can move into “oops and ouch 2.0,” which is a three-step process:
1. Call it out
This is where we name what happened—we talk about observable behaviors, how we feel and the impact on ourselves and others.
2. Call them in
Invite people into a dialogue—give them a voice; prioritizing connection instead of trying to educate or correct their behavior. Rather than calling them names or labeling them insensitive, sexist, or racist, we can simply get curious about their experience.
3. Call them forth
Ask people to take action. Collectively we can explore options and what we can do with our new awareness.
Using these three steps, here’s my do-over when Raji said to Jacob, “Enough about you. I came here to learn. I want to hear from the teacher.”
- Ouch! I’m still connecting with Jacob and his dying friend and wondering how he feels. I’m shaken that you’re ready to move on because I’m feeling so raw.
- Raji,I hear how passionate you are about learning. Maybe Jacob’s story stirred up some pain in you and you want to protect yourself from that. Raji, if you wanted to learn something about Jacob’s experience, what could you ask him?
- (Depending on what new awareness emerges) How can you keep your commitment to learning and still connect empathically to another’s pain?
Naturally, whatever I say depends on their responses. But I’m curious. How would you respond? Keep it real!
About the author:
Martha Lasley is a founder of Coaching for Transformation, an accredited coach training program and ChangeMakers, a year-long facilitation training program. She creates results-oriented programs that inspire, motivate, and transform. “I surround myself with people who take risks and look for new ways of doing things; we explore both the solid ground and the edges of transformation.”
Martha is a certified trainer in Nonviolent Communication and is a professional member of the Indian Society for Applied Behavioral Science. She has written three books: Courageous Visions; Facilitating with Heart; and Coaching for Transformation.
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