Feeling misunderstood? Try this model inspired by a client

Feeling misunderstood

I LOVE coaching. I didn’t always. My control-freak self found it frustrating that I couldn’t create success for my clients, they had to engage, commit and do the work. So my success was no longer in my hands. So I became more selective about who I was willing to work with. Which was fine because I thought I could have a greater impact in the one-to-many setting, so I only took on a few clients a year. But Covid cancelled big events for the last two years, and coaching has boomed!

I am so inspired by my clients and find such joy in their successes. They also push me to create new models that work for their particular situations. But some of those constructs can help anyone, and that is when I share with all of you.

We all know miscommunication and conflict happen in every relationship. My client was certainly not immune. Relational misunderstandings–whether it’s with an employer, coworker, friend of a family member–can create a huge barrier and erode your effectiveness. So what do you do?

I came up with this approach while working with a client who felt misunderstood and hurt by a coworker. Truth be told, he learned later, she felt the same way. This model, Acknowledge * Add * Commit * Invite, moved them forward and created a new dynamic:

  • Acknowledge. The first step is to acknowledge what happened and how you/they felt about it. Try using sentences like “When you did/said ____, I felt _____.” Give them the space to do the same. This is an opportunity to validate their feelings. Really try to see the situation from their perspective. Saying things like, “I’m hearing you say that when I did ______, you felt/interpreted it as _____. I can understand why you perceive it like that.”
  • Add. Sometimes, it can be helpful to add your perspective on the situation, if you haven’t already done that. Continuing the conversation with “I understand why you felt ____ after I ____. And then share the impact it had on you. “Your response made me feel ____.” Or “I interpreted your response as _____.”
  • Commit. After the perspectives have been shared, explained, validated and both parties feel heard, you can seek to move forward through action and commitment to repair the relationship. You can own your part in the situation and state your planned approach for the future. For example, “I see how my actions affected you. Going forward, I commit to _____ so that ____. Does that work for you?”
  • Invite. Ideally, in the commit step, the other person will voluntarily offer up alternative actions for themselves. However, sometimes people think that if one person changes, they don’t have to. If this happens, you can invite them to commit to a new way of communicating or interacting. Try, “What are you willing to commit to so that we minimize these misunderstandings?”

These steps may seem simple, but what I find powerful about this approach is that it allows for you and the other party to take responsibility without taking the blame, and it ensures neither person feels alone in repairing the relationship.

As a final note, it is also important to remember that we cannot control anybody’s actions except our own. Sometimes, a person we are in a relationship with might fail to really make the changes they committed to. Stay committed to your actions and you can feel good about your part, your effort, and yourself! We can never control somebody else, we can only invite them to be more effective with us.

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