She accused him of several hurtful mistakes. When she paused, he admitted he’d screwed up and said, “I’m sorry.”
She looked at him blankly for a moment, and then continued her tirade. When she paused a second time, he said, “I won’t do it again.”
Once more, she jumped right back into her rant. In fact, her accusations continued until finally he asked a crucial question. This one question was more profound than admitting he was wrong or even promising to avoid the same mistakes in the future.
He said, “How can I make it up to you?”
And that was when her anger melted. She began to speak softly and look him in the eye. In a more loving tone, she told him what she needed him to do differently. He listened and seemed to understand.
To be honest, the whole thing confused me initially, but then I reflected on it a bit and it made perfect sense. Let me explain why that last question worked.
He began by saying he was sorry. Not a bad start, but not what she needed to hear. An apology is good for accepting responsibility, but it’s really just a statement. It doesn’t fix anything.
Recognizing that, he addressed the future by telling her he wouldn’t do the same things again. Better, but still not quite what she needed. There’s some comfort in knowing the same thing won’t happen again, but that doesn’t make things better right now.
Then he asked, “How can I make it up to you?” That was what she needed to hear.
When someone asks, “How can I make it up to you?” they’re taking responsibility for making things better…right now. It’s a true healing gesture, and it works wonders.
Here are two ways you can put it to good use.
First, the next time you accidentally hurt his feelings, remember the power of asking, “How can I make it up to you?” That gets to the heart of the matter fast. You’ll get to watch his anger and frustration melt as he hears that you’re willing to do something to better the situation. Seriously. It’s amazing.
Second, the next time he hurts your feelings, consider what you want from him before you confront him.
He may get frustrated during the conversation and say, “I already said I’m sorry. What more do you want!?” If that happens, you can calmly reply, “I want you to ask me how you can make it better.” That’s the beginning of a more constructive conversation.
The key is addressing the past, the future and right now, and that one question manages all three. Make it your go-to when things get tense.