I noticed my automatic reaction...
Someone (usually important to you) said or did something that stimulated you to feel hurt, anger, withdrawn, defensive (or to have some other unwanted feeling or thought). You want to respond so that you don't hide your feeling/thought but, at the same time, you're likely to move toward a better outcome than a knee-jerk response (or by keeping silent) would create.
"I just noticed that what you just said (did) automatically stimulated my machinery to feel hurt (name the specific feeling). I'm curious to learn about how my machinery probably misinterpreted what you meant. And I want to understand what you were trying to do for yourself or do for our relationship by saying that to me?"
My client Pamela, a real estate agent, told me that her close friend Jill had recently put her house on the market (after a decision to divorce with her husband). But, instead of listing her house with Pamela, she listed it with some other agent and Pamela learned about it indirectly. Pamela felt hurt and even a bit betrayed by Jill. She didn't know what to say to Jill.
After some coaching, I suggested that Pamela say this to Jill (which she did):
"Jill, I've been noticing an automatic reaction of my mind that I don't like. I think maybe I made an assumption that's not true. Because I so value my relationship with you, I need to check it out with you, okay? ...
"I recently found out that you're selling the house that you and your ex-husband own and that you decided to list the house with another real estate agent. Maybe I made an inappropriate assumption, but I would have thought you would have listed the house with me. Also, when I learned this and because you didn't tell me that you were listing it with someone else, my mind just reacted with not only feeling hurt but also feeling a bit betrayed. I am curious to learn from you what really happened that made you decide to list your house with someone else and also to not tell me about it. I know you must have had good reasons."
Pamela was surprised to find out why Jill did what she did. It was very different than the stories that Pamela was making up in her mind.
Jill explained that she had a previous written agreement with her ex-husband that he could continue to live in the house (Jill had moved out when they decided to divorce) and he would help show it when the time came to sell it. Their property-settlement agreement also stipulated that Jill would receive 90% of the net income that came from selling the house, with her ex getting 10%.
Her ex was a stickler for who he felt comfortable dealing with (this was one of many factors that contributed to their breakup). He insisted that, if he was going to "feel cooperative" in showing the house, then they had to use a real estate agent that was his good friend. Even though Jill had already planned to ask Pamela to list the house, she felt between a rock-and-a-hard place with her ex's demand, which she gave into.
And then, Jill explained, she felt afraid that Pamela would blame her for "not standing up for their friendship" so she avoided calling her to tell her about what happened and about the decision she made in order to accommodate her ex. She so regretted that she didn't choose courage to call her and talk with her about what was happened. She promised Pamela that she would never do anything like that again and hoped that Pamela could forgive her.
After Pamela understood all the background stuff that led Jill to do what she did, it was easy to forgive her and she even felt that their relationship was stronger and more trusting than before.