This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

Within a matter of days, I had two different colleagues tell me how badly they each felt about decisions they made that impacted me. My reaction to their well-intended missives taught me an important lesson about why saying you “feel badly” is a waste of everyone’s time. It also helped me get clear about an alternative—and much more trustworthy—approach.

A little background: The one colleague fell ill and wasn’t able to help me with something after all. The other colleague made a choice in the face of a winter storm to leave a meeting early. Both cases left me having to regroup as their roles were important. Both colleagues also had my full support for their decisions. And both colleagues said to me multiple times, in the multiple conversations we had about it all, “I feel badly.” It was as though they couldn’t stop.

My two colleagues were absolutely well-meaning, and absolutely unhelpful.

I’ve been on the feeling badly end of things many times before. Guilt is no stranger. I’ve just never noticed quite so poignantly what it was like to be on the receiving end.

The problem with feeling badly—and telling the object of your feelings about it—is the boatloads of high self-orientation that burden the communication. Saying you feel badly repeatedly weighs other people down. It’s a burden on the recipient. It distracts from the more important task of recovering and regrouping. It adds yet something else to deal with.

There are alternatives that earn you better scores on the trust equation, like being:

  • Confident in whatever choice you’ve made (high credibility);
  • Committed to helping put alternative measures in place as quickly as possible (high reliability);
  • Willing to acknowledge and explore the impact (high intimacy);
  • Resolute about feeling badly on your own time, or even better, about doing the internal work required to alter your emotional state (low self-orientation).

The next time you find yourself feeling badly about something, first pat yourself on the back because it means that you care, and that’s a beautiful thing. Then get off your “S” and put all the variables of the trust equation to work for you.

Make It Real

This week, pay attention to your own emotional reactions to the decisions you make that impact other people. If and when those emotions are negative, look for ways to manage them effectively so that you can focus on restoring or even improving trust.

Learn More


Read about the difference between responsibility and accountability, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or brush up on trustworthy partnering traits in Chapter 7 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

The following two tabs change content below.

Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).