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The Six Step Apology (Pt 1)

parenting-talking-to-childTwo things are necessary before you apologize:

  1. The offense – the act, words, inaction, or decisions that hurt another person.
  2. Knowing that you hurt another person.

This seems simple but as parents many times we are teaching our kids the opposite.  We say things like, “Tell your sister you’re sorry,” or “You need to apologize.”  While it is important to apologize for hurting others and doing things that are wrong, there is no restoration in these robotic apologies.  The child learns that saying the words, “I’m sorry” gets them out of the uncomfortable situation and that they really don’t need to know what they are sorry for or how it impacted the person they hurt.

Before an apology can take place, you need two things: Hurt feelings, and knowledge that you were a hurter (yes, I make up words).  All your apologies are worthless unless you can complete the following sentence.

“I did _______________ and I _______________ you.”

The first step of the Six Step Apology as taught by Ford Taylor is to acknowledge the offense.  Say, “I did _______ and it caused _______.”     

Some common ones for me are:

“I shouted at you and made you feel scared.”
“I didn’t listen when you talked and instead was looking at my iPhone and you felt unimportant, like I liked my Facebook friends more than you.”
“I teased you when you didn’t want to be teased and you felt I didn’t care about your feelings.”

The key is to capture what you did and what it caused.  You may have had the purest of intentions but the reality is that they are hurt and what you did either caused it or brought it to the surface and so now you are have responsibility for your part in the hurt.

I find this first step awesome because rather than adding fuel to the fire, it takes fuel out.  My first impulse is to justify and blame.  I say things like, “If you had done what I asked, I wouldn’t have had to yell.” Or, “You are being too sensitive.”  Both of these add emotion and fuel and cause even more damage to the relationship.

Yet, the simple but difficult act of putting the offense and impact clearly into words cools the flames.

Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

If you don’t take time during this step to be clear on what happened, the rest of the steps will not be meaningful.  So take time to make sure you clearly understand and are able to clearly communicate the offense.

Capturing the action typically is pretty easy.  I did _______ can be filled in by what is easily observable.  This is pretty easy to nail but there are times, especially for acts of omission (things that you should have done but didn’t) that it may take a few questions before you can really nail down how you hurt the other person.

Capturing the impact on the other person from your action can be a bit harder because it requires seeing things from their perspective rather than your own.  Empathy is really hard, especially when so much of your focus is on defensiveness and/or trying to compensate for the hurt.

So once you have clarity on what you did and the impact on the other person, just ask the person, “Can I talk to you about what I just did?” Or, “Can we sit down for a few minutes? I need to apologize for what I just did.”  If you are talking to a child, I recommend sitting down and getting at a level that allows you to see her eye to eye.

Take a deep breath and start with step one.

Question: Why do you think that acknowledging the offense is so powerful in restoring relationships?

Image credit: kiddilemma.blogspot.com