Unless we live inside a paper shopping bag, far, far away from everyone in the world, we are going to hurt others simply by living our lives. This is bound to happen no matter how hard we try to make sure it doesn’t.
But stop! Is this the end of the world, though? It doesn’t have to be.
If you’ve hurt someone to the point they have lost their trust in you — and you sincerely care about rebuilding trust with them — read on! Here is a simple road map back into their heart. (Word to the Wise: Only for the sincere.)
Step 1: Understand the problem from both sides: yours, and theirs. If you do not understand what you have done, why you have done it, and how you have hurt someone else, the rest of the steps will be meaningless.
It can be easy in this moment of conflict to panic, and start apologizing for everything under the stars just to make amends. OR, it can be easy to get defensive and blurt out, “I did nothing wrong!!”
But neither of these responses will fix someone’s broken trust in you. Take a few breaths and calm down. Take the opportunity to truly understand what has happened, what you have done, and what the consequences are.
Step 2: Say “I am sorry.” Be specific about why you are sorry. Do not offer explanation around your actions unless they are imperative. Explanations mostly look like excuses.
*Alert!* Do not use the phrase, “I am sorry that you felt hurt.” That phrase places blame on the other person for their feelings. Instead, take responsibility for what YOU have done: “I am sorry that I hurt you by doing X, Y, and Z.”
Here’s a good sentence starter: “I’m sorry that I ___(name what you did)________ because it ______(name why your actions were wrong)_____.”
Step 3: “I’d like to rebuild your trust in me by……..” Tell your friend your ideas for directly addressing the negative consequences of your actions.
Explain why you want to do these things.
If you really can’t figure anything out on your own, try asking your friend this question: “What can I do to fix the situation?”
Here it is again: “What can I do to fix the situation?”
Here are a few examples of ways I have seen people fix the problem they caused:
~ A kid who set a fire in a local park planted the trees to replace the ones he burned;
~ A wife who cheated on her husband gave him full access to all of her text messages and phone logs;
~ Once, I criticized someone in front of a group of people. Later, I apologized to that same person in front of the same group of people.
In case you’re thinking, “Elisa, you just made this shit up!” …. I didn’t. This is a common practice that promotes healing, called Restorative Practices. Look it up if you’re curious! The NYTimes has a great archive of beautiful success stories where RP has been used.
The bottom line is that the spoken apology (Step #2) is important. But it is the actions that your word represent that make Step #2 valuable. Without Step #3, your words will ring hollow. This makes Step #3 crucial: Take Action to Undo the Consequences.
Step 4: Do that thing you said you would do in Step 3 selflessly, graciously, and often. Then, if you can, do it again. And again. And again.
There you have it.
Hopefully, with these simple steps, you will be able to rebuild trust between you and this person you care about.
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