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Art of Repair




Human beings make mistakes. And unless you live alone on an island, your mistakes are likely to hurt the feelings of another person (and they will hurt yours too!). These situations can happen directly or indirectly, intentionally, or unintentionally.  

Thankfully there is a way to reconnect with others that increases our trust, accountability, and support. This act is known as repair.  


A few weeks ago, my wife and I were getting our daughters packed up for school. I oversaw lunches for the day, as I was packing, she lovingly suggested that I add a protein-based snack instead of adding “just another orange”. I immediately shot back that I had a Masters in Sports Performance, and I knew a thing or two about nutrition. My response surprised me and even though she did not say anything, I could tell I had hurt her. In the moment I did not retreat, I doubled down, and passive-aggressively shoved the lunch boxes into their corresponding backpacks and went to work without a word. My reaction was not aligned with my values. It was not how I wanted to show up as a partner or behaviours I wanted to model as a parent.  


After carrying the guilt of that interaction and replaying that exchange over in my head a few times, I came to terms with my own failings. I sorted out that I took her comment personally and in my own mind had translated her loving suggestion to be a cutting comment about my ability to provide as partner and as a parent. I was able to circle back with my wife and take accountability for my actions, identify how my actions impacted her and our relationship.  


If you are like me and made a mistake this week (large or small) with your child, your partner, or a colleague, you can build from it, repair, and move forward.  

The ability to repair mistakes can make or break relationships. An effective apology makes relationships resilient and has the ability to increase security, openness and trust. 

The withholding of an apology or the failure to own your mistake, or worse, give an inauthentic and inadequate apology, are behaviours that can become forms of bullying, abuse of power, or emotional abuse.  


It is how  we apologize that makes all the difference. A repair apology is very specific. In my experience, some individuals, especially professionals and leaders, view apologizing as “weak”. I have witnessed leaders and colleagues apologize without including key elements such as personal reflection, accountability, and recognition of impact. When apologies are delivered without those pieces, the apology can quickly become appeasing, patronizing, or dismissive and fracture the trust further.  

The most important elements of an apology are being authentic, present, sincere, and following-through on the agreements and outcomes stated. Bottom line: “walk the walk,” not just “talk the talk.” 


The primary purpose of an apology is to restore an eventual connection. It is about recognizing and correcting your actions and never about defending your ego. Keep in mind that it is up to the other party to decide on their own terms to accept the apology and to decide if they want to reconnect.  


Steps to deliver a repair apology:  


  1. Communicate your mistake and make a point to discuss and debrief within 24 hours. This is critical. By allowing things to fester and go unaddressed, or worse be brought up a week or three months later, you have lost the opportunity to rebuild the connection.  

    1. Example of the script: Hey John, I overreacted in the budget meeting and regret my comments. I was not respectful, and I would like a chance to have the conversation again.  

  2. Ensure that all parties feel safe and supported to have a debrief. It can feel very charged and complicated if there are past confrontations, or if there are hierarchal considerations.

    1. Where possible, it is best to have these conversations in person or if being done virtually, encourage folks to have their cameras on.  

    2. Do what it takes to ensure the other person feels safe if they require another person or a mediator. 

  3. Prepare for the repair by examining your role and your own weaknesses.  

  4. Start the conversation by recognizing the effect of your behaviour on the other person. Avoid blaming, justifying, or minimizing.  

    1. Example of script: I recognize that my outburst disrupted the flow of the meeting and the presentation. It derailed the conversation and shut down a dialogue between our departments creating an unsafe workspace.  

  5. State how important their safety, comfort, relationship, role and well-being are to you. 

  6. State how sorry you are that you have done something to hurt the other person and/or break trust/safety/connection. 

  7. Share your plan to ensure that this negative behaviour does not get repeated.   

 

Art of repairing is an art and a skillful practice that requires time and attention. It impacts all our relationships (professional and personal). If you feel you need help with your situation and relationship, or tools to help you repair, contact us, and set up a coaching series.  

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