“You had me at “I’m disappointed.”

"It's not what you say, it's how you say it." Melinda Walsh

Recently a friend shared with me how she had promised to do something for a client and didn’t follow through, due to her son falling off his bike and breaking his arm, which led to an unexpected trip to the emergency room. Due to this distraction, she forgot to let her client know what was going on, and her unfulfilled promise led to some embarrassment for her client. Regrettable, but understandable under the circumstances, and a perfect reminder of our imperfections as humans.  When my friend called to apologize and make amends, her client responded by saying how disappointed she was and then proceeded with a blamestorm outlining just how wrong my friend was for not letting her know. My friend attempted to apologize again but everything she said was used as evidence against her. The conversation was clearly designed to make my friend feel as badly as her client felt upon being disappointed, but instead, had the opposite effect. At some point, my friend became angry, knowing that while she definitely missed a promise, she did not deserve to be treated in this manner.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. 

Why didn’t the client simply stop at “I’m disappointed”? The desire to blame comes from a mood of righteousness, which then leads a speaker to feel justified in punishing another person. “I just went off on them” is an indicator of righteousness.  The first issue is the broken promise, which can be repaired in a number of ways—owning the mistake, and taking an action that remedies it. But now there is a second issue:  the punishment brought about by the mood of righteousness. While moods such as these are transparent to the listener, the speaker is often blind to the damage of their words.  Blaming someone only serves the purpose of making someone wrong and someone right, and who among us thanks the person who attempts to shame us by going on and on about our shortcomings? Better to become more aware of our own need to make someone wrong, and stick to simply addressing the real issue. Now, this can take a few moments to observe what our true intention is, but doing so will serve us well in the long run. And that’s Love Applied.

Your daily practice.  Spend some time observing how often you blame, or need to make someone wrong. And then ask yourself, is this really necessary or could I handle this by simply letting someone know how what they did impacted me (I had to stay late because I didn’t get your report on time), and then request that in the future, let’s both make sure to do this a different way.



  1. Susan Adcock says:

    Thank you for those words of wisdom. It’s such an easy trap to fall into on both sides of the fence. The angry words come spilling out; we’ve been wronged, judged or hurt but fail to see the effect it has on the other person and ourselves. So thank you for this lesson of “Love Applied”.

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