Apologies can restore trust. A thoughtful apology can mend a relationship while a thoughtless one may cause further conflict. Often our attempts to apologize and make peace fall flat. When you are the author of an action that negatively affected someone you care about and you sincerely want to land an apology here are the steps.
1. Find out what the impact of your actions were on the other person.
Ask how your actions impacted the other person. Then listen. How did they feel at the time of the incident? How are they feeling about everything now? Invite the individual to fully express in whatever way feels most helpful.
Now is the time to understand their point of view. Resist the temptation to disagree, defend yourself or to rush through this part. Try to stand in their shoes and really understand their perspective. You may not see things the same way but you can still listen and understand.
Give them plenty of time. Ask if there is anything else they want to say. You will notice an energy shift when the person feels fully heard, a softening or sense of calm.
2. Ask the person if they are willing to hear from you now. If not they may not feel fully heard yet so cycle back to listening.
If they are willing to listen to you, now it is your time express sadness for the effect of your actions that stimulated or contributed to the pain they experienced. In this situation you don’t have to be either right or wrong. Just a person who made some decisions that had a negative effect on another person. You can mourn that the negative impact your decision had on the other person. Resist explaining, justifying or defending your actions.
After you have expressed your mourning or regret, give the other person an opportunity to express how they are feeling after hearing about your sadness. You may have to cycle back to step one with more listening.
3. You can leave the apology there or go a little further. If things are going well you might ask if the other person would like to know what was going on with you when you did what you did.
If the person seems hesitant cycle back to steps one and two (listening and mourning the impact your decision/action had on them).
If they are willing to hear about your experience you will want to express a feeling and a need you were trying to meet rather than what you were thinking. Something like, “at the time, I was so tired and I just needed to relax.” Again steer clear of elaborate explanations.
4. Now it is time to find out if there is anything you can offer to make things right.
Let the other person know how much you care about and value your relationship. This step is sometimes called restorative action. Look for something you can do that involves an action and is doable. Sometimes just being willing to hear about the other persons experience and expressing sadness over the impact your action had on them is enough but sometimes this extra action is needed.