3 Subtle Ways to Tell a Friend Their Toxic Behavior Has Hurt You
We’ve all been hurt by friends in our life, but it’s sometimes a scary and tricky conversation to let them know how their actions hurt you. We wish that as friends we can just tell them plain and simple, “You’ve hurt me and here’s why.” But, that’s not always realistic. We’ve asked experts for their best approaches to letting a friend know that you’re hurt and moving toward being happy again.
Tell them you need to talk
Matthew Solomon, a relationship coach, suggests asking a friend if they are open to having a conversation about something that hurt you. “If they are, the next step is to take responsibility for your reaction and share what hurt and why,” he says. Solomon further suggests seeking a solution together. But, he cautions, a friend may not as receptive as you hope. “If your friend takes offense or does not receive or agree to your request, you can choose whether or not to interact with them moving forward,” he continues. “This gives you both the power of choice.”
Explain the personal impact of their actions
If a friend canceled plans last minute and then you didn’t hear from them for a few days, you could tell them you felt disappointed about the change and then concerned about the silence and you’re wondering what it means. Kerri Wall, who specializes in mediation and conflict coaching, says to keep statements focused on how you personally feel. “I want to emphasize that when explaining impact it’s crucial to use ‘I’ statements and feeling words, so stick with ‘I felt disappointed’ and ‘I feel concerned,’” she says. Wall believes ‘I’ statements can help build connection and limit conflict, because they are a subjective report of your internal state and they don’t place blame.
Realize it’s OK to inquire about their intent
Inquiring about intent means you are curious about the intentions behind your friend’s words or actions and you are requesting more information. Wall says you could ask things like, “What happened for you between Tuesday when we made the plans and Friday when you canceled?” or “What was happening for you on Friday?” or “What made you suddenly change your mind about our plans?”
“This may seem nit-picky, but asking questions that begin with ‘what’ is more likely to lead to productive sharing than starting questions with “why,’” she says.
Wall points out “why” questions are seen as interrogating, and ‘what’ questions are perceived as being more curious. Your goal is to try and get answers not put them on the defensive.