Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

Responding to Accusations

Dear Crucial Skills,

I read Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability and have tried to implement the skills in the books, but I still have a hard time dealing with accusations. The problem is that the first instinct when someone accuses you is to restore safety or use contrasting to solve the misunderstanding, but the accuser does not seem to be affected by those actions. Instead, they continue to draw incorrect conclusions about you or something you did. I’m sure a lot of people experience this same issue. What am I missing here and what is the best way to reply to someone who wrongly accuses you?

Struggling with Accusations

Dear Struggling,

Thank you for raising this important issue. Over the years, we’ve taught a variety of skills in our books and training, but only rarely have we written scripts or shot video examples where the conversation starts with the other person accusing you. Of course, not all accusations are alike. It might feel more like a slight chiding or a gentle reminder. In this rather innocuous case, you can assess the feedback and adjust accordingly.

However, I believe the accusation you have in mind is more akin to a tense, sharply delivered statement that not only accuses you of malfeasance, but feels like an attack. As you fall under a verbal assault—say one that questions your reliability, integrity, or talent—it’s likely you’ll become angry in return. When this happens, your natural response to what feels like a mild physical threat is to move from your “know” to your “go” system and react in a defensive and also stupid way.

If you allow your “go” system to take charge, you will indeed, be less controlled and logical than is optimal for the circumstances and become blinded to most rational thought. In addition, when someone questions your character, it serves as an emotional accelerant. Between the perceived threat to your safety and the apparent attack on your character, you’re now pumping adrenaline, thinking with the most basic part of your brain, and neck deep in a shouting match or worse.

To best respond to an accusation or attack, start by dealing with your own growing anger. Cut it off before the adrenaline slips into your blood stream. Take a deep breath and reinterpret the attack, not as a threat to your safety—unless it actually is, in which case you need to exit—but as a misunderstanding that has caused the other person to become frustrated or maybe even angry with you. This switch helps you turn from being angry—you’ve judged them as bad and wrong and deserving of a good tongue lashing—to becoming curious.

When you become genuinely curious, you reignite your center for logic and reason and turn off your anger response. Now you want to know exactly why the other person drew such a harsh conclusion about you. Instead of an emotional defender, you’re now a relatively calm detective trying to get to the source of the other person’s anger.

The mystery you’re trying to solve is the following: “What exactly did I do that led you to that conclusion?” You’ll have to search for the answer because as soon as others become upset they’re very likely to lead with their conclusions or accusations against your character. It’s now your job to get to the behavior behind the accusation.

You may be tempted to start with a contrasting statement, but you’ll have to be careful not to end up with a correcting statement masked as a contrasting one. For example, “You say I can’t be trusted, but I believe you’re wrong!” (Bad) Or, “I didn’t intend to make you angry. I was just trying to do my job.” (Better, but it still sounds defensive) Instead of starting with a contrasting statement, become a detective. Probe to find out the source of the other person’s anger. For instance, “I’m not sure what I did that led you to conclude I can’t be trusted. Could you tell me exactly where I went wrong?”

Say this with sincerity laced with concern, but remain focused on the science. What were your actual behaviors? By searching for the facts and avoiding the conclusions, it allows the other person to share his or her complete view of the circumstances. This serves two important purposes. The accuser will have time to calm down—the adrenaline doesn’t go away in an instant—and you will learn more about the details of the situation.

In addition, when angry, the other person really wants to make sure he or she has been heard and understood. So, repeat back the details of the description to ensure you have them right. Continue to probe for your action behind the conclusion. Left to their own, many people just move from sharing one conclusion to sharing another. Try something like: “So you think I was selfish? What part of what I did seemed selfish to you?”

As the other person begins to share the details of the precipitating event, avoid the temptation to correct any of their statements of fact until you’ve earned the right to do so. By thoughtfully and carefully listening to his or her ugly and angry conclusions and eventually getting to the underlying facts, you’re now to the point where you can add your views. Take care; this puts you at risk once again. Don’t start with your corrections to his or her facts. Instead, explain how you can see how the other person might have come to his or her conclusion, but you have a different view on the matter. Start by sharing the elements you agree with and then point out how you see certain elements differently. This may be the time when you share your honest intentions: e.g., you weren’t trying to make this person look bad in front of the boss, you were simply trying to lend a hand.

Because you’ve taken care to sort out the facts, thoughtfully listen, allow the anger to subside, and tactfully share your view, you’re finally ready to engage in honest dialogue. But know this process takes time and patience. Left to your own proclivities, you may want to fight back. This will fuel the fires of anger and is likely to confirm the other person’s existing poor conclusions about you. Become a concerned detective, not a defender.

All the best,

Develop Your Crucial Skills

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68 thoughts on “Responding to Accusations”

  1. Kevin

    I thought there was a good video example about this in Crucial Conversations training in Lesson 9, Ask For Others’ Paths. In the video, Melinda accuses Rick of submarining her in the meeting by asking a question during Melinda’s presentation. Rick uses his AMP skills to help dig into the problem. Maybe you could make this available to the readers of this newsletter. Like Kerry says, it is about being curious rather than defensive. Easier said that done, sometimes.

    1. Andrew Charles Martin

      My friend has anger issue and accused me of hurt her I said nothing bad to her now threating to block me facebook . I met this woman 20 yr or 30 yrs later I found her I don’t through all the years way

  2. John Gard

    Responding to Accusations: I agree with your advice but believe there is another point that needs to be discussed. The writer was verbally attacked, accused of doing or not doing something, by a co-worker and doesn’t understand why the co-worker is attacking them. Could the verbal accusation be due to the writer’s competence and the attacker’s lack of competence concerning the work they are doing?

    I am competent and understand I will most likely be verbally belittled in the meeting and in front of our supervisor when I demonstrate my competence. Demonstrating my competence inadvertently and simultaneously also demonstrates my co-workers’ lack of competence. The co-workers who are competent and have high self-esteem don’t have a problem when my competence is demonstrated. I have found out that the only co-workers who will verbally attack another co-worker are those co-workers who are incompetent and have low self-esteem.

    It sounds like the writer is competent and the complaining co-worker is not competent.

    1. Corrine

      I agree with your direction here and I am in this situation with a peer. I have tried to get a better understanding ;to nylon receive a response of ” When I am ready I will tell you what you did. It has been over a week .
      I do want to know so I can make the changes I need to lead our overall team back to a productive direction.

      This person is extremely protected as he is a close close friend of one of the senior management team. She will cover up for him regularly when he has exploded at staff and made direct hurtful or statement that cast questions on the persons credibility. This one reason I am look for was to address this.

      1. Don Booz

        You can always “double bind” the person by saying something like, “When you have a date for completing the (Task), let me know and I will let the rest of the team know when to expect to receive it.” Another approach is paradox the situation by saying, “I am wondering what you help you need in completing the (task).”

      2. Lex

        If you have someone in senior or executive management doing this. The biggest problem you have isn’t the peer that is constantly blowing up, it’s senior management. I would actually be looking for another job, if I were you. This is an unworkable situation when senior / executive management won’t do their job and be professional at the same time. This is a really bad omen, because if this happens, there are other things going on in the company you have no clue about. It’s nothing more than a form of corruption that’s been there for a very long period of time. The only way for you to deal with this other person that is laying down insults and being rude. Is if the senior manager(s) that protect him were to be fired and that nobody would save his tush when he got out of line. Then you could go after him if you want but not until senior management is out of the picture. Otherwise, you’ll be fired if you do speak out or even try to understand but asking for clarification. Lodging a complaint with human resources could very well get you fired, too. Until then, you’ll be walking on eggshells.

        Personally and professionally, when I run into management like this, I find a new job and don’t look back.

    2. Sally

      Totally agree, its the incompetent who accuse to cover up their incompetence

    3. Nick Kautz

      The article encourages wayyy too much effort to spend addressing what is likely either somebody else’s mistake or an attempt to manipulate. The first thing you should say is , “Lets go talk about it with [authority figure or leader]”. By doing so you’re saying you have nothing to hide and aren’t worried about whatever over-reaction or nonsense they’ve come up with. Most of the time they say , “No no no , forget it, it’s not a big deal” Even though they made it sound like a big deal a moment ago.
      If it’s a legitimate issue they have , then you’ll have a moderator to keep it from becoming a bigger deal than it needs to be. I might also respond to hostility by saying , “Lets do this the smart way , write me an email so you can include all the details and I’ll respond as soon as I can. That way we don’t look like crazy people in front of everyone.” If they’re disappointed or reluctant it’s because they were anticipating the act or result of attacking you in person, which is BS. And it suggests that you’d hold your ground and fight back if they did.

      1. Devorah Shoal

        The advice for sending it in email is you have a record of the encounter.

  3. Debbie Nwolisa

    Great article and response. It helps me a great deal. Thank you very much.

  4. Carl Robinson, Ph.D.

    Responding to accusations is probably one of the most challenging situations people encounter. You did an excellent job of describing the emotional reactions for both parties, and it is the emotional reaction that keeps us from responding well. Excellent description for how to proceed.

  5. Tom

    I have not had the pleasure of attending Crucial Confrontations but this article captures the essence of what I learnded in Crucial Conversations and addresses the scenario perfectly in my view. It would seem the approach described works equally well in domestic situations.

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  7. Tom

    Your comments brought to mind an incident that occurred several years ago that illustrates the veracity of some of the principles presented in your books and trainings. If it will be helpful to others, please feel free to share it.

    I had been tasked by our CFO with obtaining vital year-end bonus figures from the managers of three of our companies. The managers responded in their usual styles – thorough and prompt (two) – haphazard and last-minute (one). On this occasion, however, the last-minute manager was so late that he did not get the promised information to me before a managers’ meeting the afternoon prior to the day of the company Christmas party. The CFO was new to the company and, when he learned during a break that the bonus checks for that company had not only not yet been prepared but the required information had not even been received, he publicly dressed me down for my incompetency and he and the manager missed a portion of the balance of the meeting while they met and pieced together the necessary information.

    The employees who were exposed to the dressing down were aware of my repeated attempts to obtain the required information as well as the offending manager’s style. Astonished by the CFO’s lack of professionalism and lack of comprehension in the matter, I decided to withhold comment until emotions on both sides subsided.

    Mid morning the following day, I asked the CFO if I could have a word with him regarding the bonus check incident – to which he consented. I said hat I could understand how it may have appeared that I had not acted responsibly. I reminded him that the information from two of the three managers had been received in a timely manner, shared with him my numerous reminders to the offending manager as well as the broken promises of compliance, and expressed my delight that even with the last-minute debacle the day prior it was the earliest that we had ever completed the bonus checks. He called in the Controller and asked if the bonus checks had ever been prepared this late. The Controller, with a look of total astonishment, said that, thanks to my efforts, this was the earliest that they had ever been prepared.

    Without apologizing, the CFO said that he wanted me to make sure that information necessary to prepare future bonus checks was received and that the checks were prepared well ahead of time. I said that the only way I could guarantee that would be for him to authorize me to go around the offending manager and solicit the information directly from the supervisors who report to him and submit my own figures for what I thought the supervisors should be given – and that I thought such authorization would not be advisable as it would undermine the manager’s authority. He told me to make the request of the offending manager each year and then circumvent him if the information was not promptly provided – which is what I did.

    When I opened my bonus check, it had been reduced to 20% of the original amount – on the direct order (I later learned) of the CFO. The CFO and the manager are no longer in our employ.

    1. Grizzly Bear Mom

      I am sorry that we were cheated out of your 20%. I would not tell anyone, because it will teach others NOT to speak the truth, and doesn’t enhance your reputation. Let them think that you got a double bonus. One way to look at this is to realize that those two rats don’t work with you anymore, and that others know they will be held accountable.

    2. Grizzly Bear Mom

      What a judgement, punishing, unprofessional jerk that CFO was, espeically after you ensured that he looked good in spite of him publiclly dressing you down. Glad that they fired him. I work in HR and too often see people jump down someone’s throat before investigationg what went wrong.

  8. Paul

    I like what you said and is a effective approach if I could overcome the “GO system” or the “Automatic Defense System” responses that happen in less then a second but thinking responses do not kick-in that fast. Therefore how do you regulate the “GO system” and get to the thinking system? How much practice does it take to get to the thinking system as you said “This switch helps you turn from being angry—you’ve judged them as bad and wrong and deserving of a good tongue lashing—to becoming curious.”?

  9. Lisa

    I find it helpful to clarify the intention of the “attacker” before beginning to problem solve. I find that this helps to model professional behavior and helps the “attacker” to assume responsibility for their actions/reactions. Remaining in the “I” for my statement, I would say something like, “I am feeling attacked right now. I do not want to misinterpret your intentions, so I am checking in with you to see if my perception is accurate.” This response does two things. It gives me an opportunity to validate my own reaction to the accusation. It also gives the other person an opportunity to step back from their attack without losing “the fight.” Most of the time the other party claims that it was not their intention and a crucial conversation regarding the real items of concern can occur. I believe the methods described in the article are effective for the one incident, but have less success in changing a habitual attacker’s communication style.

  10. Rosemary

    Kerry: My husband and I are are still savoring the wonderful piece you wrote called Wild Mushrooms. Thank you for such a relevant story — it applies to raising teenagers, managing employees and is a beautifully written story. Happy New Year to you and everyone at Vital Smarts!

  11. Leyton

    Another excellent article as always. I particularly like the ‘”know” to your “go”‘ analogy. My concern is in the use of the “I” statements for two reasons. First, in my experience, this seems to solidify the accuser’s perception that their behavior is acceptable or at least tolerable and that the accused is conceding to the accusation. Neither which detracts from the intensity of the situation. This stance also minimizes the responsibility on the accuser to avoid such behavior in the future with the same person or others. Something that needs to be impressed upon post haste.

    It’s always desirable for all parties to leave the situation with their heads held high but there are also workplace harassment, libel, slander and other laws that come into effect with these behaviors. Taking the high road is one thing. At the same time, removing behaviors that can ultimately jeopardize the company’s finances and reputation cannot be forgotten either.

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  13. Karen

    This brought to mind a quote I recently read from Byron Katie:
    Defence is the first act of war…. thought that was apropos

    1. Julinda

      Wouldn’t the attack be the first act of war?

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  15. Jessie Mae Hendrickson

    This article really helped me. I am dealing with the same issue. In my church group a woman at the table I feel wrongly accused me and it made me very upset so I didn’t trust myself to address this at all at the time. So now the next time I see her I know how to start. I will actively listen with curiousity and concern then to safely recap what I heard, see how she came to her conclusions and tell how I see it differently.

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  18. Kristy

    Great article. I might add that sharing the elements you agree with should go a little further. Say you’re sorry! I often find that in these types of conversations, I can always find something I could have done better in retrospect. Most of the times, I could have communicated some piece of information better which led, at least in part, to the misunderstanding in the first place. “I’m sorry. I should have told you sooner that the figures were in.” Oftentimes, once you apologize, you can even give your reasoning without it sounding like an excuse. ” I didn’t realize that you were working on that part of the project or I would have gotten them to you sooner.” Once I apologize for any actions I committed or didn’t commit, I find it easier to calmly but firmly assert the areas I have no fault in. A sincere apology also almost immediately takes the wind out of the sails of the person who attributed some malicious intent on your part or misunderstood your intentions.

    1. Shana

      I too have found a heartfelt apology to be very effective. I also think I’ve taken this too far in apologizing in places where it is not warranted. It can be a hard habit to break. I’m working on ways to try and honor the other person’s position without belittling myself. No easy task.

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  20. Don Booz

    Another good article and thoughts. I want to simply point out that every one has their own map of the world. In other words, they see reality through their perceptions that are often guided by a whole set of understandings and expectations. For this reason, I think that it is helpful to point out that I may have “gone wrong” from their perception. And stating my “intentions” is always helpful to clarify misunderstandings.

  21. Grizzly Bear Mom

    Help. I’ve been accepted into a executive leadership program where one of the instructors has attacked my character or competency on three occasions. She said that I didn’t follow directions when she asked we students to move. I am left eye blind and had accommodated myself by sitting left center as I always do, and realized that when the other 20 students moved I would be sitting next to someone new so I didn’t. It is inappropriate in adult education to control how the students learn or where they sit. Also, it seems to me that if she had a problem with my behavior, she should have talked to me openly, honestly and directly instead of complaining to the Senior Executive HR director. She said that I was domineering and “seized being scribe at an exercise” when the scribe is a passive role. She said didn’t listen to others, but I had repeatedly excused myself for asking so many questions because I had to take myself out of the conversation to write down the notes. She said I was a eh trainer when I am an outstanding one, as was recently independently verified at the training exercise. And yes I has lots of weaknesses but these are not them, and I know when I am being messed over. It seems to me that her conduct will continue unless I do something. Please advise. Thanks in advance.

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  23. Karen

    Great article. I do tend to go into correction and restating my intentions which are usually what is attacked. I like the curious mode. Thinking of answering the latest attack and shifting sands, blame game with “That is one way of looking at it. I’m curious as to what led you to that conclusion?”

    I am dealing with someone with a strong need for control who is playing shifting goalposts, the blame game, etc. Maybe just saying nothing is the best response?

  24. Dylan

    The United States justice system is screwed up. They will believe anything that a false accuser says and nothing else just to make a “real” case that looks good. This idea of freedom and real justice that some believe is false in itself.

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  26. Kudo

    Hi! I just happened to stop by and saw this article. This is just perfect. ‘Cause I’m really having a tough time conversing with a girl at school. It is really hard to talk to her using logic, because she’s always in a defensive (or rather combative) mode waiting to attack the things/opinions of what I’m about to say. Also she keep on pushing on her ideals even though it is clearly wrong. It’s just really tiring. This person is like that to everyone else.

    Btw, It is a really awesome topic! It helps me a lot! Thanks Mr. Patterson.


    Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Many thanks!

  28. mark

    If you could help please ….. I was recently forced to hand my notice for a company but I asked at the time if I could have all statements that we’re made against me this was 3 months ago I have not received any but one of the other people involved has !! Am I entitled to see them
    Regards MARK

  29. Naguib Guirguis

    All the above are good to exercise in case of strangers but does not work with my wife. Unfortunately I am a bad person who my main job is to destroy her in every word, action, body language, just name it or even think about it.
    I was hoping to find a solution in your topic but I am back to square one.

  30. angela

    What if you do all the tactics, but are still being accused? What do I do? It’s hurtful and very frustrating.

  31. Grizzly Bear Mom

    One’s character defends one’s reputation. However, working for the Department of the Navy I was taught that one denies accusations, or the accusations stand. For example “Grizzly Bear Mom” you stole the money from the snack bar.” One must deny this, because “silence is considered to be compliance”. You don’t have to deny it immediately, and I would recommend writing a draft, sleeping on it, and thinking things over for 24 hours before responding to them when one is emotional, but I would deny it. And yes, people attack when they feel threatened by your character, compentence, taking money or power from their programs, that your girlfriend is prettier than theirs, etc. Best to you.

  32. tilly-mae rowland

    It is frightening when your friends mum accuses you, saying, “I will keep these messages and will be showing school and your mother.” I haven’t even posted any messages. I only said, “Hi” and her name.

  33. stephen curran

    What to do if you ask your boss,,,who is making an accusation that you are being rude to staff,,,refused to tell you the circumstances,,,,,company he even called me from the home office and talked to me about the same thing,,,i asked for specifics and was refused, I then a couple week later was sent a letter from hr,.telling me any futhur incidents would result in discplinary action,,,,what further incidents? Am I being off base by thinking this is harrasment,, if not what recourse would be appropriate?

  34. Obedient



    i was working at the hotel, the guest accuses me that i take 3 dollars of on the desk and he claim this money one week after this no make sense , my supervisor send me home because the guest no found him 3 dollars , te guest lost him 3 dollars and i lost my job .
    what should i do to go back to work

  36. Angie

    I am a nurse in a hospital. I was falsely accused of saying something purportedly “vicious” to 2 house cleaning employees according to our unit’s nurse educator. I work overnight night shifts.

    We could not locate a housekeeper to clean two patient rooms and had no number or way to reach the housekeeping manager. I left a left a message on the housekeeper manager’s phone and explained we could not reach the housekeeper on duty, that it had been an hour and a half with no return call, that we could not be locate her anywhere in the hospital, and that I had to make at least 20-30 phone calls because of the matter. It wasn’t the first time this has happened. The housekeeping manager never returned my call. I wrote up an incident report on it. I was the RN in charge on that shift that night.

    As I said, an hour and a half later, without a return call from the housekeeping manager, a housekeeper just appeared on the unit. All she said was, “I am sorry I missed your call” with no explanation as to why. I did not question her, but simply and politely told the girl what we needed cleaned.

    The next morning, this same housekeeper, along with another who I had never seen before, showed up on the unit to clean a room. I was commenting to no particular person at the time, just remarking in a joking way that it had been a bad night and that if that tornado would have hit and wiped our building out last night, I would not have known it because we were that busy! I was looking in their direction, but the comment was not directed at them, just in general. In no way could that have been described as a “vicious” comment. They claimed I said I had blamed people that hadn’t done anything wrong. This didn’t make any sense. The only way they would have known anything about who was named in the incident report I wrote would have had to have come from their boss. If he had shared the info therein, that would be inappropriate. Only the housekeeper at fault should have been informed, not everybody in that department.

    After I left, these two housekeepers must have gone to the nurse educator to complain about me. Instead of the nurse educator talking to me about it first, she went directly to the nurse manager about it. I was then called in to talk to the nurse manager about it the next day. I told her I did not say anything out of the way to them and told her what I said. (Just having to go talk to the boss is scary to begin with!) She also asked me if I was frustrated with the unit’s supply problems and told me the nurse educator was upset with me. I did not understand this. (I had informed the nurse educator the day before about a supply issues and scanner but did not know she was upset with me.) I told her that we did not have the right oxygen masks on our supply par that we needed in a near-code situation a few days before that, but that we had TWO bins of oxygen masks we do NOT use or need and that I had told the nurse educator about it. I had simply been matter of fact with the nurse educator about it. I also informed the nurse manager that the supply replenishment scanner still did not work either. And yes, it is frustrating I told her. The nurse manager told me she did not want me to be frustrated. I told her I did not want to be frustrated either. The nurse manager doubted me that the resupply scanner still did not work, so we both went in together to check it, and lo and behold, it still did NOT work, much to her dismay. It has not been functional for months and months. All these were things the nurse educator is responsible for.

    The next day, I thought I should contact the nurse educator to find out why she was upset with me. She made a generalization about me stating that “I ALWAYS” was “COMPLAINING” about supply issues, which is not true and not a fair statement. I was trying to help our unit function better. I was simply INFORMING her. It was actually SHE that voiced her OWN frustration loudly using the “F” word about another totally unrelated equipment problem that I had nothing to do with and was not asking her about. Her level and expression of frustration over that clearly surpassed any level of frustration I had with the oxygen masks or the scanner still not working and I did remind her of that. She didn’t get it, so I had to ask her how her frustration was okay, but mine was not, and that I was NOT the one that used the “F” bomb or any curse words, but rather she was. She did not comment on that, but went on to continue about the housekeepers accusation.

    This nurse educator referred to me as “vicious” in what I said to the housekeepers, all based on THEIR word, she herself having never witnessed it nor checked my side of the story first. This all was very hurtful because the accusation was NOT true, and the worst part was her calling me “vicious”! That is a very strong, painful word. I was hurt deeply by this because it was grossly untrue, uncalled for, and questioned my integrity and reliability without giving me ANY benefit of the doubt.

    I cried all the way home and all the rest of day and was very depressed the next day. I do not want to go back to have to face the educator, the manager, or other nurses for fear that they all may have heard about it and have been gossiping about me.

    I am and have historically been a good, reliable, dependable, timely, hard-working (older) employee (age 55; others are 20-early 30’s) with only 1 incident of sick time off in the past 4 years when I really was sick, and no interpersonal incidents at all during that time.

    I am also afraid my reputation and character may have been ruined (as in slander) if other employees overheard the educator talking to me on the phone because she addressed me by name during the conversation. (I could not get an in-person time to talk with her.) I do NOT think it is appropriate for another employee at any level, but especially at manager level, to ever use profanity. It is inappropriate if her phone conversation with me was overheard by other employees. It is also hypocritical for her to express her frustration but others are not allowed. Informing her of needed supplies and the scanner not working is her job, and should NOT be considered a “complaint” but rather a help to the unit which affects patient care. She told me to just “deal with it” and deal with the housekeepers not showing up to do their job. So the take-away I got is to just put-up and shut-up. Wow! That really will help patient care! Yet they claim to give the best health care around. And continually are on us to strive for excellence. When we do, this is what we get. She apparently does not want to deal with the problems even though it is her job. I do not think this is the attitude a healthcare business ought to have.

    If it continues, I will not be able to work under so much stress and duress. They would be losing a decent employee. I have over 30 years of nursing experience.

    Can anyone tell my what dynamics are at play here and what I can do about it? Please. Thank you.

  37. Sharon Harrison

    I attended a crucial conversations workshop for just this reason. I was accused of bullying by the person who was actually bullying me. For more than a decade a colleague had singled me out and behaved to wards me in an unacceptable and unprofessional manner. The list of what she has done is endless. Initially I tried to ask what I had done to upset her, not only did she refuse to say she became physically aggressive, deliberately crossing corridors to ‘bump’ into me. I should mention that she is much taller and sturdily built that I. I tried to employ all the methods I’d been taught to no avail, and I did desperately want to deal with this with honesty and an open mind and heart.
    Despite repeated requests to resolve the issue my manager consistently kept this ‘in the department’. Eventually I was unable to face going into work and my doctor diagnosed me with work related stress and depression. At about this time my Manger retired. I requested that HR get involved and I have nothing but praise for how they managed the situation. Although they have been unable to get to the bottom of her (even to them) paranoid accusations which are not only unsubstantiated but completely contradicted by our individual personnel records, the fact that they listened to me, accepted my feelings and recognised my attempts to resolve the situation saved my sanity. I still work alongside this person and am still subject to her behaviour: the difference is that now she is aware that others consider her perception of me to be unfounded and her response to that perception unacceptable. Her behaviour has been ameliorated and I am once again enjoying the job I love.
    My point is that sometimes there is nothing you can do personally to change things. Not everyone is a ‘decent reasonable person’ who is capable of seeing the other person’s point of view/side of the equation. But we shouldn’t give up because most people, in every segment of the hierarchy, are decent and reasonable. Somewhere there is someone who will listen and I will never again make the mistake of accepting that ‘nothing can be done’ even if it means taking my courage in both hands and going straight to the top.

    1. Down But Not Out

      I appreciate your story. I’m in a similar situation and it is refreshing to hear that you had a positive outcome. Thank you for sharing!

  38. Charlene Winfield Johnson

    It is very painful as a senior when you falsely accused of saying something you did not say or reporting something and then you are accused of being the one who made the initial comment.

    1. S

      Yep. That’s the way it works, yes. People who won’t take responsibility for what THEY do. People who love making others suffer. Sociopaths. Can you walk away? Can you do the No Contact Rule? A friend of mine lives in a senior and disabled apartment building. She has someone there who does this to her. She reported them to the management and the manager helped her get a restraining order against the person. The person was given an eviction notice if she did not stop the abuse. It was still somewhat of a problem for my friend, but things improved and now there is no contact.

  39. Sahar Sibani

    This is a great article for individuals who truly have a genuine issue with another person. However, in my company, accusations are commonly used as political ploys “supported” with fabricated examples. So when person A tells person B that they find them aggressive, and person B responds with a “tell me more” approach, person A will then start to re-write history and give a false or purely fabricated example. If person B now tries to correct person A, then B will come off sounding defensive.

    How can one deal with such a situation without coming off sounding defensive (and ideally, without giving person A the opportunity to make things up)?

  40. Jacqueline

    What if their accusations is simply to have someone to blame for their current bad behavior such as an adult child wrongfully accusing parent of abuse and neglect so they can point the finger and stay a victim? If the parent says they r sorry u feel u were …. They will stay in a victim mentality and keep w the bad behavior

  41. S

    Three people (now former) friends over the years have accused me of something I did not do. In every case, I walked away and never looked back. For family, it can be tricky. I got so p.o’d that my sister kept accusing me of saying something I did not say, and denying she said something she did say. Verbal conversations were hard for me to “catch” on, but when we started emailing a lot, the “evidence” was right there to be seen. I cut her off. Told her I didn’t want to hear from her agian. This is the third time I cut her off. Each time I finally relented, called her, and the behavior never came up again.

    One of the other people who were not family was my boss when I was employed. She accused me of calling co-worker from my desk phone and saying “Pick up the phone! Pick up the phone!” It was a rushy office, putting out fires all the time. It was hard to ever converse with anyone. But still she considered is of extreme importance not to do that! The call did come from my phone but it was not me. Obviously anyone have used my phone while I was away from my desk. I mentioned that at my call-down interview, but she was convinced I was the “abuser.” At work, the underling is always wrong. I quit the job. about a week later.

    The other two incidents were with women each of whom I’d been friends with for 3 years. The first one has a diagnosis or paranoia and her husband does, too. She told me he did not like me. Maybe he was due to her major attitude change, I have to think he was influencing her that I was against her and slighting her. So she accused me of slighting her, more than once. I know she does not take medication. So the next time she called and accused me of slighting her with something I’d said, I gently said, “J____ you really need to do something about your paranoia.” She slammed down the phone and the friendship was at an end. And I am glad. I do not allow myself to be treated that way.

    The third woman, whom I’d also been friends with, started calling me and emailing me way, way too frequently. Finally when the rate had escalated even more, I wrote her an email and said let’s answer each others calls and emails, and not start anew conversation till we hear back from the other person. She said she completely understood. A few days later I asked her if she wanted to have lunch at the senior center, which we often did. When we sat together at the table, she started literally screaming at me! She said I will never. ever. call. you. or email you again! I said, “Bye, B…” and got up and walked away and never looked back. She followed me around the dining room screaming insults. I had about decided if she didn’t leave, I’d take my sandwich outdoors and eat it under a shelter on that cold, rainy day.
    But she finally left. Then surprise surprise! A few days later, I get a (paper) letter from her in the mail! I figured she had one of three possible things do say: Either apologize, which I would not accept. Or write more abuse which I would not accept. Or, just converse by mail as normally she would have, ignoring what had transpired, and I would not accept that, either. So I shredded the letter without reading it. Why stir myself up again, since the relationship was already at an end! What a relief.

    So those are my ways of dealing with paranoid abuse.

    1. M

      To S. I have recently had an experience with someone close to me, where I did do my best to communicate clearly and openly. I am sure I had ways that I could have done better, although I do try my best.
      I came to this site because I have been very confused with how to communicate with this person once they are angry with me. It seems that I have a lot to learn about how to work with someone once they are very angry with me.
      The tone of your comment to this article sounds somewhat like this person I have been challenged to communicate with. The person will be very angry and seem very confident in all of their responses as to how it is my problem and something wrong with me. They are quite closed to me, although I am trying to keep communication open on my end to figure out the communication glitch.
      I wonder how you are so confident that these many people have done this to you?
      I feel sad for the woman who wrote the letter, as it sounds like I may presently be in her shoes with my friend. It seems that she did not have a chance with you. What if she was trying her best, but maybe your communication was simply confused in transaction? What if you missed an opportunity to hear her words after maybe she gained some clarity?

      1. Anthony Rossi

        How come police can falsely accuse you of 100 things but they tend not to look in the mirror at themselves they are guilty of what they are accusing you off

  42. Deb jensen

    Verry helpful skills that gave me a calming feeling ..lessened my anxiety and fear of talking to a person with legit reasons for her actions .It is impairitive I respond in a more appropriate manner than the way I have .thank you verry much

  43. neha

    It might help me tomorrow. Thanks kerry . But i still didn’t get it how to make the other person realize that he/she did it wrong when they strongly believe that their actions were right. I hope you have a lovely article about this with a good video. Thanks again.

  44. James

    Thank for the helps me with a situation with my girlfriend.

  45. things aren't normal any more

    Omg, its a nightmare out there right now, since the mid 2000s its like there is nothing one can do to defend from false allegations…the accusers are adept at manipulation and targets are left like deer in the headlights, asking what are you talking about does no good because when they laugh at that question you know your dealing with soc/psychopaths out to destroy you, your business and reputation. They have supposed confessions already written out, threaten you their buddies all align ala fraternal order of male control and dominance, and thats that, they help each other out to pull it all off. No one will survive alone up against thoese forces, manipulators are adept at using institutions they belong to to abuse by proxy to get what they want, whether its election rigging or destroying communities or progress, psychos stop at nothing to derail and retain their web of control.

  46. dee

    I agree with things aren’t normal anymore. And unless you are adept at games, you have lost before the games begin, specially in the workplace.

  47. Emma

    I really needed this article today. I co-manage a staff of about 20. The other manager is slowly working towards retirement and is in the office only 2-3 days per week. Being here only part time means you miss the day-in, day-out motions of the business. When I try to fill her in, she’s too busy. If I don’t fill her in, I’m withholding information and sabotaging her career. Recently, she accused me of lying to her and it really hurt. She makes no bones about her opinion of “my lack of integrity” while I feel integrity one of my strongest traits. My natural reaction is to fight back and it is always the wrong way to respond to this person. I’m in the position where I’m just trying to keep the peace until she finally retires but that is not how I want to live my work life.

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  49. Christel

    Please help me write a rebuttal for I am being accused of swearing vulgar and having favourites at the center for children I am working at.I would never do such but a senior executive and a lower grade co worker who wants the position are involved.please help.

  50. What to Do When You've Been Accused of Crime You Didn't Commit - Business Review

    […] being charged with a crime are two very different things. You will need to act as soon as you are accused of something to avoid charges being taken against you. This is one of the reasons why getting a criminal lawyer […]

  51. Rayhan

    Thank you for this information. I’m really really glad about it. Recently, a family member had accused me of ‘dating someone’ which is a false accusations! I don’t even text men.

  52. Julinda

    I love Kerry’s work! But in this case I felt like something very important was missed. It was stated to take a deep breath, but for some (many?) people, in some situations, it is going to take a lot more than a deep breath to get to a place where calm discussion can occur. If someone has verbally attacked me (yelled at me and/or said really awful things), I need more than a deep breath to be able to discuss calmly. I need time to calm down and process what the person said. Maybe minutes, maybe hours, maybe days. What should I say in the moment? What if I am about to cry and can’t speak? What if I am crying? OR what if I am so angry I can’t speak without yelling or otherwise expressing my anger? So basically, how do I get more time to process before responding?

    1. Julinda

      To add to what I wrote, in a situation where I’ve been verbally attacked, the other person probably also needs to calm down before we can discuss it.

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