Mistakes we make when responding to minor false accusations

Picture this. You are a manager. One of your subordinates, John, accuses you of playing favorites–giving more opportunities for development and promotion to one person and intentionally ignoring the one making the accusation. You absolutely believe the accusation is baseless due to a misunderstanding of workflow and skill sets.

What would be your usual response? Explain? Pull the, “I’m the authority here, I do what I think is right” card? Silence and an eye roll? I imagine most of us choose the explain option. If feels right that we should clarify the misunderstanding.

Why is explaining wrong?

Let me clarify. Explaining isn’t necessarily a sin (though it could be). Surprisingly it rarely helps the situation when offered first. Why is this?

  1. Pointing out the facts as you see them almost always sounds like a defense
  2. Defenses (AKA explanations) rarely address the root concern of the other leaving them feeling unheard

A better way

Contrary to our natural tendency to defend against an attack, the best strategy is to validate the concerns of the other. If the employee is concerned they are getting passed over (and you can imagine they have been feeling this for a long while when they finally speak it to you), your explanation of the facts does NOTHING to address their concerns. A loving, Spirit-empowered response will take to heart their fears. “John, I bet you’ve been feeling this for some time. It is important to me that I hear and understand what you are feeling. I do not want you having the impression that you are not valued. I would be happy to explain why Lisa got the new position and how I see your future here. Can we set a time to talk about this tomorrow?”

One of the reasons we don’t validate others first is that we fear our own view of the facts will be swallowed up in the opinions of others. In addition we fear that validation will be heard as agreement. Be wary of these feelings. In fact, when you give the accuser the chance to state their concerns/case first (and do so in a way that they feel heard), your own views are much more likely to be heard.

Now, if only I could employ this technique with better success (on my part) with my teenaged boys! If you don’t know already, such a simple technique of validation requires a massive dose of humility and self-sacrificial love. You cannot do this in your own strength!


Filed under christian counseling, conflicts, Family, Relationships, Uncategorized

6 responses to “Mistakes we make when responding to minor false accusations

  1. Thank you for the reminder. I almost always have an excuse or reason for everything that I am very eager to speak. It would be better to think first of the person who has taken the time and energy to actually bring something to my attention.

  2. Pingback: Remaining Humble in the Midst of Conflict Resolution | In His Presence

  3. Pingback: Re-Blog: Responding to False Accusations (by Phil Munroe) | Nicole Efunnuga, M.S.

  4. ShonaMurray

    Thanks, Phil. It was my teenage boys I was thinking of too! Quite a challenge to implement, but worth pursuing.

  5. This is a great post, thanks so much for writing it. I saw it reblogged on http://www.heartmission.org (shout out to Nicole). I have some questions, tho. What I hear you saying is that we should explain, but not right away. That we should first validate the accuser and later explain.

    First, I certainly love and appreciate it when my husband validates me as you’ve described, before he breaks down why my perception (or “accusation” as you say) is dead wrong :-). Your illustration of the manager is great because many bosses don’t affirm and some don’t even bother giving an explanation! (Even though they may not be required to give one, it sure is nice when they do, and even nicer if validation is given first.)

    With that said, are there situations where the whole “validation first” principle isn’t practical? For example, let’s say a pastor is regularly accused or questioned by congregants (his decisions, motives, direction, etc). Wrongfully so. Accusations can come at him by way of e-mail, texts, phone calls, in-person, hearsay and even Facebook. Is it practical for him to validate every single accuser before explaining? Seems like this would entail a lot of back and forth that he may not have time for: to first validate the person, then schedule a time to explain or clarify? Or do you think the pastor should not bother to clear up wrong perceptions? The Bible does say a prudent man overlooks an insult. Should he just “be prudent” and overlook the accusations? But if he doesn’t explain, doesn’t he risk persons walking around with the wrong idea? Reminds me of the scripture, “Do not let your good be evil spoken of” (altho hermeneutically it may not fit this context).

    I guess no one enjoys being misunderstood. I joke sometimes that Jesus knows exactly how I feel because He was often misunderstood when He walked among us. Paul too. Paul wrote whole chapters in the Bible explaining or defending himself. But Paul usually started off with validations, ending with them too, but often challenging, teaching, and explaining in the meat of his letters. I actually don’t mind people disagreeing with me, as long as they disagree with what I really think and not a wrong perception it. When the latter happens, I admit I find myself minding more than I would like 🙂 But can we really control how something comes off to other persons in every instance? Hypothetically, I can say one sentence in a room full of ten people, and each person can have a different perception as to how I “came off.” So I do find myself clarifying and people usually respond with appreciation when I “clear things up.” So maybe I’m validating them somehow in my approach or method without realizing it. I also find that doing so deepens many of my relationships. Aren’t some of our most satisfying relationships those in which two people really understand and “get” one another. It gets to the point where explanation is seldom required. Or maybe I should say it gets to the point where (wrong) accusations are seldom.

    One of my problems or struggles is distinguishing between an accusation and a question. If someone asks a question, they aren’t accusing, right? I can be too quick to (wrongfully) perceive that someone’s question is an accusation “disguised” as a question. In some cases I’m right (the person admits it), but in some cases I’m not. In either case, your advice will apply here too.

    Then there’s Isaiah who says, “He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! (Is. 50:8).” Doesn’t sound like he was trying to validate folk much (smile). Of course, my takeaway here is that we can allow the Lord to be our defense lawyer so-to-speak (“He who vindicates me is near”), without feeling we need to defend every little accusation. I actually think of Satan when I hear the word “accuser,” specifically Satan tempting Jesus in The Wilderness. And as we know, Jesus didn’t respond to Satan’s accusations with affirmation; He told Satan to get out of his face (laugh). But of course, we understand why. Sorry if that was a bad joke.

    I thank you again for this post, and I will (prayerfully, with the Lord’s help) be more mindful of validating my accusers going forward.

  6. So very true, a profound post!

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