Recently I conducted an expatriation training about the values and behaviour of Swiss people, when the client asked me how she could mend a relationship if she unintentionally offended someone.
Excellent question, isn’t it?
We always interpret human behaviour against our own cultural background. When living as expats, it is more than likely that we unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings or offend him, be it at work, in shops, at our child’s school or during leisure activities.
Five ideas for dealing with misunderstandings
Here are five ideas on how to deal with this kind of situation:
1 – Stay calm. Don’t let an upset person get to you, but concentrate on listening non-defensively and actively. A hurt person may make emotional remarks – don’t rise to the bait.
2 – Listen, listen, listen. Look and sound like you are listening. The other person wants to know that you care and that you are interested in her problem.
3 – Stop saying sorry. It is such an overused word because everyone says it when something goes wrong and it has lost its value. Far better practice is to say “I apologise for this”. It is tempting to (over)explain your action, but you’d better keep your defence short.
4 – Empathise. Using empathy is an effective way to deal with people’s feelings because it isn’t about agreement, but about acceptance of what the other is saying and feeling. A good way to show your empathy is to say something like “I can understand that you are angry”, or “I see what you mean”. But only say that if you genuinely mean it.
5 – Build rapport. Sometimes it is useful to add another phrase to the empathy response, including yourself in the picture. For instance: “I can understand how you feel, I don’t like it either when I’m kept waiting.” Through this, you are crossing over to the other person’s side and you will build rapport.
When things go wrong, people often judge your character based on how you respond to a mistake or a challenge. Do it well, and they will speak highly of you. And hopefully, your impeccable reaction to this challenging situation will even win you a new friend.
Switzerland-born Barbara Bruhwiler is the founder of Expat-Living.info and the author of Expat-Living.info Johannesburg.
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