Are you taking responsibility for someone else's happiness?

Author: Bells Breakthrough Leadership Coaching LLC |

Blog by Bells Breakthrough Leadership Coaching LLC

How do you know if you’re taking responsibility for someone else’s happiness? I was hanging out with a group of friends the other day and I a cracked a joke about something that I thought was funny only to discover that what I said triggered defensiveness and anger in a friend.

Has that ever happened to you?

I get that my humor isn't for everyone, but I don't think it's bad enough to make someone angry, so what happened. Well, the truth is I don't know. I don't know what made her defensive and angry but I do know it wasn't me.

You might be thinking otherwise and why wouldn't you, I made a joke and someone got upset!

Here is what happens in situations like this. Someone, in this case me, innocently says something and another person hears it and relates it to their own life experiences or stories and it becomes personal to them. Sometimes it triggers a positive reaction but in this case my friend interpreted my joke as a personal attack on her. It felt like I just rubbed salt into an old wound, and her fight, flight or freeze reaction kicked into action. I had no way knowing that my joke would cause this kind of response.

What should I do? My friend is upset and angry, should I apologize?

Yes and No :)

Here's what I did and what I teach my clients, especially those who have a tendency to be people pleasers.

  1. Ask what was your intention? My intention was to say something funny and have a good laugh with my friends, my intention was not to hurt anyone.
  2. Give the other person space to process their emotions. When we're in flight, fight or freeze the last thing we need is for someone to tell us to calm down, or worse tell us we are overreacting, doing so can be like adding fuel to a fire.
  3. Make yourself available to listen to your friend when they are ready to talk, when I say listen I mean listen to understand what is going on with them, why was this was so painful for them.
  4. Acknowledge their pain is real and validate that you understand why they feel this way.
  5. Then if you feel like it let them know you're sorry that what you said made them feel the way they do. What you are doing is saying you're sorry they are hurting, not that you are sorry for what you said. The difference is subtle but significant, you didn’t do anything wrong.

Unless you're purposely setting out to hurt another person you are not responsible for how others feel. I know it can seem sometimes like you are. Try using the steps above and allow others to feel how they feel without the need for you to make them feel differently or to fix them in some way.

If you would like help with this please visit my website and sign up for a complimentary "Get Acquainted" session with me.