STEP 1- ASK When someone shows signs of being emotionally hurt or angry about your words or actions, or tells you that something you did or said hurt them, ask them what it was you said or did to hurt them and how that has impacted them.
This may take time, depending on the intensity of the hurt, it may take a couple of sessions over days, or longer, for that person to fully experience and express the impact of the harm done. The best you can do is to be available to listen and wait. You can proceed to the next steps based on the parts you’ve heard so far, if there is a gap between discussion times but know that the process will not be over until all harm has been expressed. You will have to repeat this process with each new aspect of impact/harm that is revealed.
STEP 2- FEEDBACK Once that person has expressed the harm done to them, your role is to communicate back to them, in your own words, what you understand the hurt to be, and the influence that it has had on them. Check with them to see if you have missed anything or have misunderstood something they’ve said.
STEP 3- REFLECT If you cannot agree that you are responsible for all that they are presenting as ‘your fault’ ask for some time to think about what they have said.
STEP 4- DETERMINE YOUR RESPONSIBILITY Think about the parts that you can take responsibility for. What things do you wish you’d done or said differently? Think about what parts you can imagine them misconstruing, for eg. “I can imagine that they might have thought____ when I said ____ because of our history with ____ OR because of my tone OR because of _____.”
STEP 5- COMMUNICATE YOUR PART Let the person know what you are taking responsibility for, what you wish you’d done or said differently and how you can imagine their perspective on the situation.
STEP 6- COMMUNICATE YOUR APOLOGY Be sincere. Apologize for the harm you’ve taken responsibility for. Use eye contact. Speak gently. Touch the person, if appropriate, (ie hold their hand, hand on shoulder).
STEP 7- PLAN FOR CHANGE If you have ideas about what to do differently next time, present those ideas and then ask if that would make things better in the future. If you don’t know what you could have done differently, ask what the other person thinks would help to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.
STEP 8- FOLLOW THROUGH Act on the changes that you have agreed upon. Learn from this process. Sorry is only the first step in an apology; the rest is action. Do what you say.
For more on conflict resolution see ‘Forgiveness,’ A Dirty Word?
Also check out How to Start a Good Fight