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I snapped at a coworker in grief – and now they don’t respect me

He went too far. He cheated on you — or she did. She lied or told a friend a secret you asked her to keep confidential. At the time “it” happened, you thought, What you’ve done is unforgivable, and I’ll never give you a second chance. You drew a line in the sand and walked away, resolving never to see or talk to that person again.

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Now you’re not quite sure, because a former good friend, a coworker, a parent or even someone you once imagined a life with stands on the other side of that line. Can you forgive that person and erase your line in the sand? What if you didn’t know what they were going through or what led them to do what they did?

Consider this true story. My first son, Joey, died of an undiagnosed heart disease. I lay an apparently healthy five-day-old baby boy to sleep in his crib. Two hours later, I woke up to a dead baby.

Five years later, when my daughter, Jenny, was born, I didn’t sleep for a week. I couldn’t. Gradually I learned to sleep in snatches, but when Jenny had a cold, and her breathing was rough, I stayed awake and vigilant all night.

Since my husband worked on Alaska’s North Slope and his salary supported his former wife, two sons and him, I needed to work. When Jenny had her third cold, I realized I couldn’t keep my job if I didn’t get sleep. The next day, I called an electronics technician and asked if he could make me an alarm clock that would go off every three minutes. He told me he could, charged me an arm and a leg, and I bought two. I slept by my daughter’s bedside in three-minute snatches, checking her breathing each time I woke.

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Now visualize a hypothetical situation. Imagine I’m your coworker, and our boss has put you in charge of completing a report. You have everything you need, except two paragraphs of information from me. Our boss has just pushed you to get the report finalized by the end of the day.

You come by my desk, notice that I look haggard but discount it. You have two kids, and you manage to work productively despite many late nights handling cranky babies. You come to my workstation and say, “I need your paragraphs.”

“I’ll get them to you,” I respond.

My tired, bleary-eyed statement that I’ll get you what you need doesn’t cut it. You’ve been waiting on me. With increased intensity, you say, “I need them.”

I stand and scream, “Look, witch, get out of my face.”

No one talks to you that way and gets away with it. You write me off. Except, would you if you knew my story? Would you forgive me? Would you realize that everyone snaps? Or would you think, I’ve never screamed at someone. I didn’t provoke her — what she did was unforgivable.”

Suppose I apologized to you the next day. Would that soften you, or would you say, “That’s fine,” despite the fact that it wasn’t fine any longer?

If you would forgive me, or at least understand why I’d screamed, consider your true story. Is there a person you’ve written off because he or she did something you considered unforgivable? What if he or she had reasons? Could it be you expected too much out of that person or that this person had reached a breaking point and took it out on you? Of course you didn’t deserve it, but haven’t you ever reached your breaking point and acted out of character?

If you’re thinking, If I knew the reasons why that person in my life acted like that, perhaps I could forgive, then take a chance. Pick up the phone, and call the person you’ve placed on the side of that line. Perhaps it’s time to pick up an eraser.

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© 2016 Dr. Lynne Curry. Curry is the author of Beating the Workplace Bully and Solutions.

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