Oopses & Ouches – How to say “Sorry”
~ Guest article by Rayellen Kishbach
We’ve all done it. Messed up. Sometimes it’s an oops that causes an ouch. Sometimes it’s a whopper of a mistake and real damage/harm has been caused. Sometimes we know we did it. Sometimes it has to be pointed out to us that we hurt someone.
Regardless, defending, minimizing and blaming are strategies ego uses to keep us from feeling the pain we’ve caused. What if we could have a more heart-full way to deal with our own mistakes? In this article, I demonstrate a simple process of apologizing for a minor offense — some place where I’ve missed the mark, hurt someone’s feelings, stuck my foot in my mouth, and want to come back into connection. If the mistake is something that caused significant damage or harm, the process is more involved, and I invite you to read my article about that.
Let’s start with an actual “Oops…Ouch…Sorry” conversation from my life, just the words:
Me: <Opens mouth, inserts foot>
Them: “I didn’t like the way you said that. It felt demeaning.”
Me: “Thanks for letting me know that. I can see I just said something that felt demeaning to you. Can you tell me specifically what felt yucky?”
Them: “Yes, that word is loaded and it made me feel unwelcome here. I thought you were nicer than that.”
Me: “I can see how you felt unwelcome. I am sorry I hurt you, and thank you for teaching me. Is there anything I can offer you?”
Next, let’s peel a layer back, and see what is going on inside my head during this conversation,because this is a lifelong learning:
Me: <Opens mouth, inserts foot, sees stunned silence, micro-grimace, change in expression of them, which clues me into the fact that I just “oopsed” even if I don’t quite know what was hurtful or offensive. Intentionally brings pause to the conversation to allow awareness, considers asking what just happened, then get’s saved because this brave being was willing to actually speak up…>
Them: <after silent shift in expression or body language and some space in the conversation to make room…>. “I didn’t like the way you said that. It felt demeaning.” <Note, that some speakers who aren’t skilled in things like NVC might say this in a way that is more charged, and includes “you” language>
Me: <Busy mind/ego runs through the “roladex” and considers using each of the learned and ineffective behaviors of defending, gaslighting, negating, making a joke out of it, telling them they are being sensitive, making it about me, and then remembers there’s a better choice and respond. Heart chooses love and speaks instead of mind/ego being the spokesperson> “Thanks for letting me know that. I can see I just said something that felt demeaning to you. Can you tell me specifically what felt yucky?” <really listen>
Them: “Yes, that word is loaded and it made me feel unwelcome here.”
Me: <notice facial experssions and body language and see that this person is experiencing suffering they would not be experiencing had I not just said that thing. stay in heart. gratitude: how lucky I am that this person feels safe *enough* with me to be my teacher. be the student. be available to be coached…> “I can see how you felt unwelcome. I am sorry I hurt you, and thank you for teaching me. Is there anything I can offer you?”
And the SIMPLE components are these:
Here’s a few things NOT to do:
- Don’t make it about you. Don’t ramble on about what a great person you are and how they misunderstood you. And definitely don’t ask them to comfort your ouchy feelings in this moment.
- Don’t make it about being right. You don’t have to agree with someone to BELIEVE and EMPATHIZE with their feelings. There may be a time in the future to clear up the facts, for now,since they are in upset, let it be about empathizing with their feelings.
- INTENT is overruled by IMPACT. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t mean to hurt them. What matters is that they are feeling hurt. Saying “I didn’t mean to” is NOT an apology, it’s a way of escaping blame. You did a thing. They feel hurt. Focus on the impact and see how your intention missed the mark and you are lucky to get this invitation to refinement.
- Don’t indulge catastrophication (I think I made that word up?) Even if, in YOUR mind, their upset seems out of proportion with the offense, just stay steady in your intention to be love, and to be a person of integrity. Let them have the full range of emotional intensity that is true for them.
- REALLY: Be GRATEFUL for this opportunity for growth. Consider that if this person had zero intention of staying in growthful connection with you, or if they already experienced you as a person unwilling to take feedback, they probably wouldn’t have wasted the energy to point out the oops.
Finally, Thich Nat Hahn has a very simple question we can ask after a session where someone has shared something really tender with us. I like to hear this question when I’ve taken the time and energy it takes to express an ouch. Very simply, ask “Do you feel I’ve understood you well enough?”
Rayellen Kishbach is part of Come Back To Love’s Love U mentorship program, and founder of GraceWorks Guidance & Gatherings. Rayellen embodies a keen interest in helping individuals, partners and poly tribes find and move from their own wisdom. She is deeply involved in wellness and personal growth work in the areas of sexuality, healing shame, and opening to love. This includes serving as an intern with the Human Awareness Institute. In these capacities, Rayellen is a patient and culturally sensitive listener with a mind and heart open to celebrating connection, choice and consent.