How to Make Enemies and Offend People

Maybe Dale Carnegie had it mixed up when he published his classic work How to Win Friends and Influence People. Maybe he should have written one that would be much easier for most of us to achieve — How to Make Enemies and Offend People.  I think Jesus might have qualified to write the forward for that one, actually.

But you and I can do this pretty effectively ourselves by what we say. Unfortunately, we can even do it when we don’t say anything at all.

Sometimes, we choose to be quiet when we should be talking. We choose silence and think that we’re not saying anything. Not true. [See my post Silence Speaks: What You Say When You Say Nothing at All] We get scared, maybe for legitimate reasons, tuck our heads in our shells, and shut up. 

We like think that we choose to be silent in order to not make enemies and offend people. The reality is that sometimes our silence can do the opposite just as effectively.

It’s Easy. Here’s How.

We can make enemies and offend people by choosing to be silent when…

  1. They find out later what we we really thinking about them.  How many times has this happened to me!  I sit on my thoughts for fear of offending someone, but then my thoughts come out later in another form and — wham! It’s a hundred times worse now, because the person thinks I must not think much of them if I didn’t tell them before. And they’re likely right. I had this blow up on me once in a big way when concerns I had about another elder in a church got back to him via a pastor who was supposedly offering me advice on how to address the issues. Not good. And no, the relationship did not recover.
  2. They walk away thinking our silence means we don’t care. Some people are wired for words. They crave words of affirmation. Call it their love language. Call them extroverts. Whatever — just be sure to call them, or at least say “Hi,” or they will be offended. Don’t feel like it? “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus….” It took a handful of feedback from students and teachers to conclude that my not greeting them each and every morning when we passed in the hall, meant — to them — that I didn’t care about them. Never mind that I had already greeted 50 other people before seeing them in the hallway. Seriously, never mind that. It’s irrelevant to person 51.
  3. They are offended by their own interpretation of our silence. That’s right. Some people will be offended by what they thought you meant when you didn’t say anything to them. I recall a misunderstanding I once had with the mother of a student. She told me that she had been offended by something I didn’t say. Apparently a few years prior to our conversation, I had greeted her husband and shook his hand in the one night at a school event, but I had not greeted her specifically and did not shake her hand. I really had no memory of the interaction, but it had definitely made an impression on her and had affected every interaction that had taken place between us since. Unbeknownst to me. As I explained to her, I was raised to think that a gentleman does not shake a lady’s hand unless she first offers it. Bottom line – I asked her forgiveness for the oversight, assured her I had no negative feelings toward her, and learned a key lesson in how damaging silence can be when the other person fills in that blank with their own insecurities. We all do it. Best to be proactive and intentional about how the silence gets filled.

What harm have you seen come from choosing to be silent? How have you managed to inadvertantly make enemies and offend people? Leave a comment with click here to help us all grow.

About Bill Blankschaen

Bill Blankschaen is a writer, speaker, author, content and messaging consultant, and general Kingdom catalyst. As the founder of FaithWalkers, he equips Christians to think, live, and lead with abundant faith.

His writing has been featured with Michael Hyatt, Ron Edmondson, Skip Prichard, Jeff Goins, Blueprint for Life, Catalyst Leaders, Faith Village, and many others.

Bill is a blessed husband and the father of six children. He serves as VP of Content & Operations for Polymath Innovations in partnership with Patheos Labs. He is the Junior Scholar of Cultural Theology and Director of Development for the Center for Cultural Leadership. He works with Equip Leadership, Inc. (founded by John C. Maxwell) and ministry leaders around the Pacific Rim to better equip ministry leaders there to lead with passion and greater influence.

  • Kate

    “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Recently I saw a man who I knew had hurt his family horribly and repeatedly, for years. I was even surprised to see him still in town. Because of my compassion for his family, I could not find a smile for him and found no grace in myself for him. I turned my face, as I found I could say nothing nice. I don’t know that I was right and I may have made an enemy of that man. I pray God gives me words the next time I see that man, if I ever see that man, for pity’s sake.

    • http://BillintheBlank.com Bill Blankschaen

      Kate,

      I can’t help but wonder how your silence was interpreted by that man. Not excusing whatever he did, of course. But if Jesus had snubbed the worst of sinners, he wouldn’t have reached out to us. Just a thought…. Thanks for the comment

      • Kate

        Quite right, Bill. But at that moment, I had no words, except hard ones. That didn’t seem good either.

        Jennifer, compassion cuts two ways, doesn’t it? Having compassion for victims can make our compassion for the victimizer very difficult. At least that is true for me.

        • http://BillintheBlank.com Bill Blankschaen

          Kate,

          Agreed that silence beats sinfulness. Thumper’s advice applies here, yes? If you can’t say something nice….

          Not to cut into your conversation with Jen (I know you’ll both forgive me) but you are so right. We tend to think compassion is a win/lose thing rather than a win/win. Good thought. Thank you.

        • Jennifer

          True for many of us, I suspect. As a childcare provider I have unfortunately found myself confronted by this all too often. My reflexive response when a child has been harmed is one of protectiveness and, I’m sorry to admit, anger or rage. The “fierce Mother bear” instinct is all too strong in me. It probably has its uses from a short-term biological standpoint, but is far from my ideal vision of the path I want to be on in life.. The practice of compassion is definitely a practice for me at this point! I’ll confess to sometimes biting my tongue in an attempt to do no further harm while I struggle to make changes in my heart. Compassion can be a minefield, too, as just as silence can be interpreted wrongly, our compassion can be misinterpretted as acceptance or support for a person’s wrongful actions.

    • Jennifer

      Hi Kate,
      I’ve struggled with this one, too – particularly with child abusers. It’s very difficult to know what to do or say. I try to remember that I don’t know the abuser’s story and to hold compassion in my heart, but this is far easier in theory than in practice.

  • rvs

    As an introvert, I find the image of that turtle to be comforting. I also think that the idea of apologetics has changed drastically in the last 20 years, or so. The idea of arguing with people who will never be convinced by traditional Christian arguments seems undesirable, maybe unwise. Most of my atheist, agnostic, and fundamentalist friends are friends because we share mutual interests (video games, sports, philosophy, satire, etc.). We have learned how to have fun conversations about Arrested Development, for example, without getting into doctrinal disagreements, quibbles, etc. Our laughter together is the best form of apologetics I can put forward, if we want to call that apologetics.

  • Jay Saldana

    Noodling is the insane art of fishing by using your person as bait. It works like this: you enter the water along the banks of a rive or lake and thrust your hand into holes found on the side in hopes of forcing – usually a catfish – to bite your hand, where upon you grab their gills and pull them out. It has been practiced for generations in the south. Among certain groups it is considered a rite of passage to manhood.
    I bring it up as a parallel to certain think tanks and their rankings among each other. It has sometimes been the case that junior participants must thrust their hands into dark intellectual holes searching for the record catching controversy that will bring them notoriety and thus increase their standing with their brethren.
    The problem with intellectual noodling is that you are always in opposition and almost always pointing out the negative. Therefore, being offensive is not an accident it is the objective.
    So if you insist on finding offense or worse creating offense where their is none you should not be surprised that you get what you get.
    Such is the life of a blogger with a covert agenda. But, then we all carry burden of one sort or another.
    Have a God filled day,
    Jay

  • Jennifer

    My husband works long and difficult hours. Since my favourite thing after a long day of work is to be left alone in peace and quiet, I assumed that my husband would like that as well. Nope! It turns out that he thought my silence meant I wasn’t interested in/didn’t care about his day.

    I’ve found these blogs to be tricky places to “talk” in as well. On this one, for instance, I am very aware that I am not a conservative evangelical. And although I have never been made to feel at all unwelcome here, I nonetheless don’t want my “voice” to be too loud and intrusive. It’s those darned manners my parents drummed into me. So if I’m silent, Bill, it’s often because I want to respect your blog and not because I’m not interested in what is being said here. Just wanted to make that clear in case you are losing sleep over my (all too) occasional silence (or perhaps you’re celebrating with root beer floats?)

    • http://BillintheBlank.com Bill Blankschaen

      All right. Not to worry but thanks for the intervention. I’ll get help for my root beer float problem.

      Interstingly, we have one child who seems to be an extrovert ina family of introverts. Quite sure that is going to cause me to explore this whole silence/talking thing more deeply as the years progress.

    • http://BillintheBlank.com Bill Blankschaen

      By the way, don’t interpret my silence as offense. I love your questions. My silence likely means I’m busy. If I’m offended — not likely – I’ll tell you.