Leap Year Lesson #107: Before Taking Offense, Have An Adult Conversation

Posted: April 16, 2012 in Communication

I’ve been keeping an eye on some online discussion threads recently that have surprised me in terms of the reaction by some people. In response to what I thought was an honest suggestion made by someone for the company to offer assistance to others facing a particular health issue, some reacted by claiming to be deeply offended at the suggestion. It was later confirmed that the original poster intended no malice or condemnation – only genuine concern for fellow employees facing a serious health issue. The original post was even made anonymously because the poster did not want to potentially embarrass a coworker suffering from this condition.

It is true that words on a screen cannot always adequately capture the intended tone, emotion or genuine, heartfelt basis of the words written. That is a limitation of the written word compared to face-to-face communication. But I never cease to be amazed at how quickly some people take offense to things that to many seem innocent.

Why do some get offended so easily? Have they been hurt so often in the past that they expect to be offended at every turn? Are they bitter souls that would walk past 99 good things in order to find one they can complain about? I don’t know. Each situation and each person is different, and all of their histories are different. Most importantly, their histories are unknown to me, so any conclusion I come to is mere speculation without substantive foundation.

What I wish would happen, however, is that the offended person would first attempt through questions and dialogue to understand the people and the message behind what they are tempted to take offense at. They might find that, rather than reacting so emotionally so quickly, there is some value in what was said, and that jumping to conclusions is counterproductive.

I hold to the theory that nobody has the right to never be offended. That doesn’t excuse being insensitive, rude and thoughtless, never caring if we offend. That would be wrong. But it’s time we talk intelligently when we have differences and react less emotionally so quickly.

Leap year lesson #107 is Before taking offense, have an adult conversation.

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