I was having lunch with a few colleagues the other day. We were discussing our goals and plans for our respective businesses and one colleague, a colleague I also consider a good friend, admitted one of the things she needed to focus on “wasn’t really very energizing.” Immediately, I piped up with a cheerful, positive and energetic “yes it is!” This was well intended. It was my goal to be helpful. And, it was also a poor choice. Her response was a very gracious “it’s not very energizing to me.” Wow! Shame on me. Too much of that kind of behavior and I could sabotage a great relationship.

What did I do wrong?

My well-intentioned attempt to make her feel better was actually dismissive and disrespectful. By contradicting her, albeit cheerfully, I was essentially telling her she was wrong to feel the way she was feeling. By piping up immediately, I essentially decreased the likelihood she would want to share more. Because, who would want to share their truth with someone who tells them their truth is wrong?

What ought I to have done?

A better course of action would have been to ask her some open-ended questions such as “what about it isn’t energizing?” or even a generic “help me to understand – tell me more.” I could have stifled my urge to cheerfully advise and taken the time to be interested. Chances are, she would have appreciated the listening ear and the opportunity to talk far more than my unsolicited advice and dismissive approach.

What did I do to make it better?

First, when she very graciously corrected me by saying “It’s not very energizing to me” I followed up with an open-ended question in an attempt to repair the damage. And while that was better than nothing, I still felt lingering hesitancy on her part.

What can I do now?

Because it bothered me, I have taken the time to analyze the interaction. I now know I will apologize for being so dismissive.

What can you do?

Learn from my mistakes. Be conscious of how the words you choose, even the well-intended ones, can impact relationships. Take the time to ask questions and listen to the answers before rushing in to share your thoughts or ideas. Honor others and their perspective.

Pamela Jett is a communication skills and leadership expert who knows that words matter! In her keynote presentations, workshops, books and online learning programs, she moves beyond communication theory into practical strategies that can be implemented immediately to create the kind of leadership, teamwork, and employee engagement results her clients want.