How to Tell Someone They Hurt You… the Right Way

Picture by  Maria Esteban Fernando via Unsplash

How to turn pain into personal growth

Sometimes a friend’s, family member’s or colleague’s actions or words will hurt us. And if we’re not careful, we can channel that hurt in negative ways. For some people, that may mean stewing in that hurt. For others, it could mean lashing out. And then for some, hurt can bring out mean, rude or even passive-aggressive, reactions. 

But there is another option, and we can express our feelings without wanting to hurt the other person as payback. 

Painful feelings point to unmet needs

My mother is a great example of why passive aggression isn’t the best strategy for problem-solving (love you, Mami!). I’m sure many of you can relate to the complex nature of mother-daughter relationships. I can write a whole separate article on the topic (and just might), but I digress. 

When my mom is in need of connection, community, and love, she has a way of calling and saying something like, “If I don’t call you, I would never hear from you.” Even if the last time we spoke was just a few days before – and even if I was the one who called her. 
Through passive-aggressive tactics, she may think that I know exactly what she’s feeling and needing, while coming up with a solution, but instead she’s triggering the parts of me that feel hurt. Without her knowing, the cycle of dysfunctional communication then continues. 

Using a different way to communicate can help you get your needs met… without pissing off the other person

Nonviolent Communication is a great way to engage without causing conflict. According to The Center for Nonviolent Communication, “This approach to communication emphasizes compassion as the motivation for action rather than fear, guilt, shame, blame, coercion, threat or justification for punishment. In other words, it is about getting what you want for reasons you will not regret later. NVC is NOT about getting people to do what we want. It is about creating a quality of connection that gets everyone’s needs met through compassionate giving.”

This requires you to observe without judgment, state your feelings and needs, and make a request. For example: The last time we spoke was 2 weeks ago on July 9 (observation). I’m feeling hurt (feeling) and in need of connection (need). Would you be open to scheduling a time for us to speak/hang out this week (request)?

Staying curious will open dialogue

If you sense that the other person is searching for more information, stay in conversation with them and stay curious about what you hear. Open-ended questions are a great way to gain a better understanding of what the person feels and needs. Here’s an open-ended question you might use in the example of the friend i shared above: How have you been these past two weeks?

It's a simple and direct question that starts with “how”. Open-ended questions ignite conversation rather than eliciting a yes/no response. They are not leading (driving the person to say what you want them to say), but instead they open the floor for dialogue. If you’re interested in learning more, Hubspot blogger, Bill Cates, wrote a great article on the value of open-ended questions.

This is a 2-way street; be open to negotiation

Once you get a dialogue started, use it to listen and notice what your needs are in the situation, and to come up with a request that would satisfy those needs. Be mindful that just because you feel hurt, doesn’t mean that a person needs to do exactly what you’re asking. They can make a counter offer, say yes – or even say no. Stay flexible to compromise and discuss. 

Practice makes better

Nonviolent Communication may feel weird at first, especially if you’re not used to using it. Heck, this type of communication might also be weird for the other person – maybe even causing them to take it the wrong way. This is where coaching can help, though. 

Through coaching, we can talk about the root causes of why you’re hurt, understand your needs in the situation and help you be prepared for the conversation to come.

When is a time you could have used Nonviolent Communication to better express your feelings, and in return have your needs met?