The 4 stages of an effective apology
By Jaemin Frazer
When someone hurts you, you must protect yourself from them in case they hurt you again. This person is now dangerous. It makes sense that trust is lost. To trust a dangerous person is foolish. It is wise to be guarded instead.
Therefore, the idea that it just takes time to rebuild trust is naive and simply untrue. Often time makes things worse. The mistrust and guardedness only increase. This person is still dangerous. To let them back in means they could hurt you again at any moment.
The only way to trust someone again is if they are no longer dangerous. The only way a person could no longer be dangerous is to properly fix the damage caused to the relationship in the first place. All you need to rebuild trust again is an effective apology. The moment this happens, safety is restored, and the walls can come down.
Unlike the childish one-word apology, the adult apology requires four crucial steps to ensure you get back to ground zero in your relationship and are not stacking issues on top of issues.
1. Understand exactly WHAT you did wrong and how that made the other person feel.
To apologise effectively, your first responsibility is to communicate clearly that you accurately understand the mistake made. If you’re not sure exactly what you did wrong or why the other person is even upset with you, your apology makes no sense. What are you apologising for? If you do not agree that the accusation is accurate, rather than trying to placate the other person with the words they want to hear, you are far better off to push back and review the data until you are on the same page.
2. Understand and communicate WHY you behaved that way.
The next logical step is to communicate that you understand why you did it. If you are going to fix things and become safe again, it will require some self-awareness as to what was going on for you that made you dangerous in the first place. If you don’t know why you did it, how could you possibly prevent it from happening again in the future?
3. Genuinely empathise for HOW you made them feel.
Step three is the place for empathy. Humble yourself, step into the other persons shoes and see how it would feel to have been treated this way.
Feel their pain and acknowledge that if someone had done this to you, you would also be hoping for a sincere apology. If you are actually sorry and you want to fix things, now is your chance to show it. When someone has accepted responsibility for their behaviour and is honestly sad they’ve hurt you, it makes it so much easier to accept their apology.
4. Make a believable plan as to why this is unlikely to happen again.
The final step in an effective apology is to talk about the future. Even if you’ve done the first three steps perfectly, you are not off the hook until you present a believable plan for your future interactions with the person you are apologising to.
To remove guardedness, all we actually need is a believable plan and the sense that it is unlikely to happen again. For this stage to be effective it must be believable to both parties. There is no point overpromising and underdelivering or you will be back apologising again tomorrow. It is your responsibility to put forward a believable plan about how and why things will be different in the future so that the other person can be confident the issue is unlikely to happen again.
Conflict resolution may not be easy, but it’s certainly not complicated. When issues are not resolved completely there’s an inevitable build-up of resentment, guardedness, and erosion of trust. When these steps are followed, the walls come down, forgiveness can be given freely, and trust rebuilt. The space between you is clean again. We good? Yeah we are good.
Jaemin Frazer is the author of Leverage – How to change the people you love and get the relationships you deserve (Major Street Publishing $32.95). He is the founder of the Insecurity Project and specialises in helping entrepreneurs, leaders and business owners eradicate insecurity so they can show up to life unhindered by doubt, fear and self-limiting beliefs. He is widely recognised as one of Australia’s best life coaches and a leading voice globally on the subject of personal insecurity. You can find out more at www.jaeminfrazer.com