10 steps to take if someone calls you out on something you said or did

Follow these simple steps when someone calls you out.

You’re a caring and decent person. But someone just called you out on something you did or said. As a decent human being, you don’t think you routinely do things that are damaging or hurtful, and for that reason your first reaction might be to get defensive and defend yourself. But like all people, your actions can sometimes have unintended effects on others. We might not know how damaging our actions can actually be. So in order to come out of the experience a better person, follow these simple steps when someone calls you out.

1. Listen. It’s amazing how much you don’t actually hear of what someone’s telling you when you’re preparing your come-back or defense. If in an online interaction, read the person’s response carefully. Two or three times if need be.

2. Take a second, take a breath. Don’t act defensive and respond right away. It’s okay to feel defensive, but don’t allow yourself to act on that defensiveness. If in a real-life situation, briefly draw your attention to your breath and then use that same attention to listen to what the other person has to say. If you find yourself devising come-backs, just acknowledge the thoughts and draw your attention back to the person.

3. Think about what you said or did and how it might be perceived. Did you misspeak? Were you misunderstood?

4. Think of the impact what you said or did could have on others. Do certain words you used carry baggage? Are they associated with the experiences of others, particularly groups that have been the object of oppression?

5. Think of the words the person used to call you out. Are there key terms or phrases that you can learn more about? Google them to see what others are saying about the subject. Take some time to educate yourself about the other person’s perspective from what’s available publicly. This works best when you’re called out online. If called out in person, remember those phrases and look than up later.

6. Ask for clarification or explanation. See if there is more to it that the person wants to share with you. Don’t expect them to, though, and don’t hold that against them. It takes a lot of courage and energy to speak up, especially if you’re part of the group that is targeted by someone’s damaging words or actions. Understand that and respect if the person chooses to disengage with you. If you notice yourself feeling like you deserve an explanation, just acknowledge those feelings and make space for them, but don’t act on them.

7. Consider your own defensiveness. Is it coming from a place of defending your ego? Is it a force of habit? What do you have to lose by considering the other person’s perspective and/or conceding your own position and apologizing? What do you have to gain by doing so? A better relationship with the person? A better understanding of the experiences of people different from you? A better handle on your ego or impulsiveness?

8. Respond how you see fit, but always with the care, respect, and courtesy that you would show toward an equal. Regardless of how rough or disrespectful the person might have been to you. Sometimes when you or the group you belong to is the constant target of damaging language or acts, you get angry and build up rage. That can come out as an attack or disrespectful language when calling out someone who employs damaging language or acts. It is also possible that you have a different idea of respect: what you consider disrespectful the other person does not see as such.

If the interaction is an online one, why not using your time looking up some of the key terms or phrases from step 5 instead of responding?

9. When appropriate, disengage from the interaction in a way that leaves you open to more dialogue in the future. Consider this farewell: “Thank you for sharing with me your perspective. I will reflect on it and continue learning and growing. Hasta luego!” vs this one: “Let’s agree to disagree.”

10. Continue being open and learning from the plethora of experiences and people around you.

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