Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I’ve always considered myself a well-liked person, so I was shocked and hurt when I heard another mom from my son’s soccer team describe me as “awful” (and the person she was talking to agreed). As soon as she realized I’d heard her, she started apologizing, but I was so upset I just grabbed my son and left.
Part of me would love to use this experience to open a dialogue with her — “What exactly is so ‘awful’ about me?” — but I fear the answer would really hurt, and I’m not sure I can handle it. What would you do in this situation?
Well, it’s also pretty awful to talk openly about how awful someone is — so you have their awfulness to console you. Doing it not-openly won’t win anyone any prizes but at least it allows people to save face.
The trick is now to turn this destructive criticism into the constructive kind. What of your typical behaviors could someone tag as obnoxious? Would you even be able to admit such a thing, or do all of your conflicts originate in someone else doing something bad to you?
AIf at this point you feel you’re ready for, or would benefit from, a conversation with this woman, then, yes, ask her for a moment of her time. “I was saddened to hear your opinion of me. If there’s something I did to offend you, then I’d be grateful for a chance to make things right.”
To disarm her completely, there’s also this, with a smile: “Well, you can also just not like me, and that’s OK, too, since we can’t suit everyone’s tastes.