We’ve all been there: you’re being vulnerable in a group discussion and someone shuts you down, calls you out, or makes you feel like your idea is stupid. And let’s be honest, there is literally nothing worse than feeling like your idea is stupid. I’ve been there, both in work settings and in organizational settings.
Since I’ve become a volunteer sorority adviser, I’ve found myself on the other side of several of these situations. The age gap and my no-nonsense approach probably make me a little intimidating to college women who haven’t gotten to hang out with me in a Diet Dr. Pepper and pizza fueled late night recruitment frenzy (which, if you really want to get to know me, let’s hang out late at night and eat terrible food and talk about recruitment. You’ll love me, I promise).
It happened this week, and I found myself reflecting on not only myself as an adviser, but also all of the advisers I’ve worked with as a collegian, as a volunteer, and as a staff member, and all of those sticky situations I’ve observed. It’s made me think about how I’ll handle these situations differently the next time I’m feeling offended, and I wanted to share my observations with you:
Assume positive intent. Are there people who are driven by self-advancement? Sure. But honestly, these people are the minority, especially when they’re not getting paid for their involvement. If someone says something that rubs you the wrong way, assuming that their intent wasn’t malicious is the first step to being able to resolve the issue. When you assume they’re coming from a good place, you can go into the conversation knowing that you both want similar things.
Address the situation with the person directly. Nothing is worse than hearing that you made someone feel bad through the grapevine. If you assume positive intent, there’s a good chance the offending party has no idea they said or did anything wrong. Upon learning they made you feel bad, they’re going to want to reach out to you, and when they’re hearing it through a third party, it’s hard to gauge what your response will be like. Addressing the situation with the person who made you feel bad means you’re genuinely interested in a solution, and in helping that person to grow. Which leads me to…
We’re all here to help each other grow. We’re all human. Sure, we have great successes and make people feel spectacular, but sometimes, we make mistakes. We make small mistakes and big mistakes and fail epically and wish we could take things back or unsay things. Spoiler alert: once a situation has passed, all we can do is learn from it, grow from it, and aim to be better the next time we find ourselves in a similar situation. The best thing we can do for each other is extend the same grace and growth opportunities that we’ve been extended.
And who knows? Maybe we’re all just each other’s life guides.