Falsely Accused

I often warn people that when they start studying relational wisdom, real growth comes through “homework.” That’s what happened last week to a young woman I’ll call “Susan” (all names changed), who just shared this story with me.

Susan’s boss, Barbara, asked her to make travel arrangements for a trip involving their entire executive team. Unfortunately, Barbara’s daughter, Debra, failed to provide Susan with information she needed to promptly reserve the airline tickets. When Susan finally secured the seats two days later, they were more expensive and the schedule was less convenient than originally planned.

When Barbara learned about the new schedule and costs, she lectured Susan about the importance of fulfilling her responsibilities on time. As the lecture continued, Susan felt a growing urge to defend herself by shifting the blame to Debra. But before she opened her mouth, she mentally reviewed the three steps of the SOV Plan.

Self-awareness

First she examined herself. Her muscles were tensed up and her heart was pounding, sure signs of the adrenaline triggered by fear and anger. From past experience, she knew that these emotions could easily hijack her brain and prompt a defensive reaction that she’d later regret.

She then reflected on her job security. Her last performance review had been excellent, so she reminded herself that she was unlikely to lose her job over this issue.

She also identified her biggest obstacle: pride. She hated the thought that Barbara and others would misjudge and think less of her. But then she remembered that the best way to encourage others to think well of her was not to argue or defend herself but to continue to act with integrity and effectiveness every day in her job.

Other-awareness

Susan then focused on Barbara, who was clearly angry. Her eyes were wide and her voice was sharper and louder than normal. Remembering times when she herself was that angry, Susan realized that Barbara’s emotions would make it difficult for her to listen objectively to an explanation … especially if it involved criticism of her daughter.

Susan recalled a time when another staff member had blamed Debra in front of her mother. It had not gone well. Barbara immediately jumped to her daughter’s defense and faulted the staff member for the problem. Clearly, blaming Debra for the poor travel arrangements would not help the situation, especially when Barbara was so emotionally stirred up.

Values-awareness

Finally, Susan sought to identify the values that would help her respond to Barbara’s attack. With just a moment’s reflection, she knew she would be better off if she did not let pride or a demand for immediate justice control her words or actions.

Instead, she consciously decided to respond with humility, patience, self-discipline and respect. She also remembered an old saying, “A gentle answer turns aside anger.”

As she consciously took hold of these values, Susan could feel her body relaxing and her emotions subsiding. Seeing that this was not the time to make a defense or to blame Debra, she simply apologized for the disappointing travel arrangements and promised to be more diligent in the future.

As Barbara walked away, Susan decided to let things calm down for a day or so, and then consider whether it would be wise to talk privately with Barbara to explain the situation more fully.

But someone else beat her to it.

A manager who knew all that had happened approached Barbara the next day to explain Debra’s role in the delay. Although Barbara didn’t have the humility to apologize to Susan, Susan was relieved when the manager told her that he had clarified the situation … and commended Susan for her self-control in a difficult situation.

By quickly looking at the situation from three perspectives—being self-aware, other-aware and values-aware—Susan avoided a defensive reaction and responded in a way that revealed her relational maturity, prevented an argument with her boss and strengthened her example to her coworkers.

– Ken Sande

Reflection Questions

  • How do you feel when you think you’re being wrongly accused? What do you typically do? What results does your reaction typically produce?
  • To see an example of what happens when we allow our emotions to “hijack” us–and how to avoid such reactions–see the video clips in Four Ways to Defeat Hijacking.
  • Can you think of a time when you or someone you know did not become defensive or angry when wrongfully accused? How did that situation turn out?
  • What are some other values that would be helpful in a situation like this?
  • How would you rate Barbara’s relational wisdom? What relational and leadership mistakes did she make? How could she have handled this situation more wisely?

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2014 Ken Sande

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5 Responses to "Falsely Accused"
  1. Guilty. I’m pretty sure had I been as mature as “Susan” above there would be more than one relationship that would be healthier today. An old and perhaps cheesy line comes to mind, “You can be right or you can be in relationship, but not both”. My pride has driven me to verbalize that I was “right” when I could/should have been more self/others/God aware and saved the extra stress in the relationship. Thank you Ken for your great reminder and thank you God for beginning to open my eyes.

    • Amen, Brett! I’ve done the same more times that I want to remember … especially with my dear wife. I’m glad God promises to continue his good work in us.

  2. Defensive reaction could probably be my 2nd name. I’ve managed to stop spewing out what I think, when I have time to think about it. Reactive responses are a little more difficult. Actually, I have put my finger on it – God is teaching me patience right now. My accountability group has suggested that I make light of things instead of getting angry. For example, if someone pulls out in front of you while you are driving, then OBVIOUSLY they had somewhere they had to be really quickly – and you should just accept that. Other-aware is showing me that I can be selfish and need to start thinking of others first, as Christ did. Merely keeping quiet or stuffing down feelings doesn’t help. You have to put the other person’s feelings in perspective first, then deal with it or let it go.

  3. I’m so guilty! I tend to get defensive or point out that “it wasn’t my fault or so and so didn’t do their part”.

    Lord please help me to humble myself and respond in a way that honors You!

    This part of the passage really stood out for me: “Most importantly, Susan turned her thoughts to the Lord and silently prayed, “God, please show me how you want me to respond.”

    A recent sermon on 1 Peter 2:21-23Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) came to mind, reminding her how Jesus had left her an example by suffering wrong without retaliating and by trusting his Father to make things right in his own way.

    She then thought of Romans 12:17Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), which teaches that when we are being mistreated we should speak and act so properly that any reasonable person who eventually learns all the facts will acknowledge that what we did was right.

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