The fast, unreserved Apology, so powerful in resolving conflict…


Many years ago I attended a one-day course on ‘conflict resolution’ delivered by Brian McGeogh.  Since then, I have used the powerful principles upon which the training was based both in my personal and professional life, over and over again.  And I have shared them with people attending my own workshops for their benefit and the benefit of those with whom they live and work.  Here are three: there are more, but these are really powerful:

1.  Where there is one, there is no conflict

2.  Surrender your view, for something new

3.  Be the first to apologise, fast and without reservation

The first principle I can totally identify with, not only the concept of being at one with other people, but also and very importantly, being at one with oneself, stilling that inner voice and all the ceaseless inner self-talk.  Rational thinking, mindfulness, meditation and reflection, can help us debunk the negative inner talk that leads us to conflict within ourselves and is often a source of much unhappiness and pain.

I am a huge fan of the second principle, but only after trying it out a few times and seeing the results for myself.  When I came across this principle for the first time, I did not agree with it at all.  I thought that surrender meant I had to give up my values, or my own principles upon which I had built my well-justified position.  It is holding onto our ‘well-justified’ position that leads to conflict with others.  When I left the emotion go around this position, I found that I could engage with the other person more fully, and found that I immediately started to see their position and to empathise with it.  This doesn’t mean that I ‘gave in’ or ‘gave up’ (avoidance) nor did I ‘give and take’ in a ‘half-hearted’ way (compromise).  What happened was a new way forward opened up to both of us, one based on true understanding.

Surrendering my view took courage and faith, not only in my position but also in myself.  I did not feel threatened in any way by doing this. The relief was enormous:  I immediately felt lighter and conflict dissolved.  Surrendering my view helped me gain another perspective on my position, and I learned from the experience.  Something wonderful happened on a number of occasions, the other person, upon seeing my surrender, also surrendered and came towards my position.

The third principle is about apology: the ‘quality of mercy is not strained’, and all that.  It isn’t easy to apologise when you’ve been hurt, when others you love are hurt and when you feel vulnerable, emotional, deeply wounded.  What I found really works, is to search hard for something upon which to base the apology.  And there will always be something; when emotions run high, there is always something for which we can apologise to the other person.  It is important to do this quickly, and without any ifs, buts, ands, howevers; so totally without reservation and with the aim of not just forgiving, but ‘forgetting’.  It’s the ‘forgetting’ part that’s most challenging.  And I have to admit I do not always rise to that challenge.

In order to apologise we need to look to principle number two: to leave the emotion go surrounding our position thus allowing us the space, energy and clarity to apologise sincerely. In the apology we are telling the other person that we are sorry for something between us that has gone wrong. The other person will hear the apology and move towards us.  It may not heal the wounds, but it will help move us in the right direction and can only be to our benefit.  In recent public times in Ireland, a fast, unreserved, sincere apology for use of words such as ‘disgusting’, would have been very helpful indeed!

Anne Marie

Anne Marie Crowley - Crowley Personal and Business Change

Anne Marie Crowley, based in Cork, is a free-lance Coach and Trainer in the field of behavioural change for individuals and business. 

Anne Marie Crowley is the founder of Crowley Personal and Business Change.

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