The Six Step Apology (Pt 4)
In the first three steps we explored the importance of not rushing to “I’m sorry,” and instead looking at what took place, how it impacted the other person, our feelings about it, and then our heartfelt reaction to hurting the other person.
If that feels vulnerable, it is, and it is only going to get more intense in the next three steps. I have a tendency to protect and not open doors in which I am not certain about the outcome. I think that is why my apologies tend to be a mechanical checklist rather than a confrontation with my vulnerability.
For example, when I react in anger and shout at my girls, I’m confronted with the reality that I am hurtful, I react in bizarre ways when I don’t feel in control, and I have a bunch of stuff in my closet that I thought was neatly tucked away that tends to come out in destructive ways. Rather than protecting my family, I hurt them. This is a really vulnerable feeling and discovery.
And so my tendency is to skim over things, minimize, blame, deflect, and utilize a bunch of other “skills” rather than walk the steps of realization of how I impact others and taking responsibility and humbly acknowledging that I am truly sorry for the pain and separation that I’ve caused.
This next step is a bit different from those before because it now acknowledges that this restoring process isn’t all about us, the outcome of the apology isn’t in our control.
- Acknowledge the offense: “I did _____.”
- Admit, “I was wrong.”
- Use the words, “I am sorry; I apologize.”
- Ask, “Will you (when you can) forgive me?”
Most of us were raised saying, “Will you forgive me?” and that question required an immediate answer. One of the more absurd things I’ve done is punish my child for not responding with an immediate “I forgive you.” The problem with requiring an automatic forgiveness form others or yourself is that it creates a situation in which people don’t actually choose, they just respond. Forgiveness ends up being a “bless you” after a sneeze rather than a heartfelt blessing.
The phrase when you can is powerful because it does two things.
First it demonstrates that you understand that it is a choice of the other person to forgive or not. You ask for their forgiveness because you want it, but you demonstrate that they hold the power and choice to forgive, not you.
Second, it demonstrates that it may take time for them to forgive. It acknowledges that your actions hurt the relationship, that they may not trust you or your words, and that they may not have processed things in a way that allows them to forgive. By asking and giving them time, you put the ball in their court and now they are responsible for the next step. It is no longer your move nor are you intimidating them into a hollow response.
The great thing about this phrase is that it is a conversation starter rather than a conversation limiter. The traditional, “Will you forgive me?” pretty much requires a yes or no. Adding “when you can” gives permission for them to ask more questions, clarify things, tell you that they need time, and a whole host of things. It gives them freedom to choose and participate in healing the relationship.
Ford Taylor, who taught the Six Step Apology to me during his Transformational Leadership class, recounts that when he came clean with his wife about his infidelity and a host of other things that she wasn’t ready to forgive. She needed more evidence of his sincerity and understanding before she was ready and it took them time. She didn’t require him to grovel and he didn’t use the time to beg, only to demonstrate that he understood the pain he caused, took responsibility, and was deeply sorry for the pain he caused.
Over time, she was able to forgive and the forgiveness became deeper as they both continued in the apology process.
In the next step we’ll look at another vulnerable step: Asking for accountability.
Questions: How have you avoided vulnerability? Has this six-step process been helpful for you in increasing your vulnerability?