14 February 2018

A good apology 101

If you are a leader, I bet at some stage you’ve been a great disappointment!
Over the past 15 years of leading a larger church I’m regretfully confident I’ve disappointed hundreds of people one way or another.

Whether you lead a business, a church or any other organisation - the burden of leadership means we sometimes make choices for people that they wouldn’t necessarily make themselves. We initiate change which can be uncomfortable, we challenge accepted norms and confront situations and mind sets that others won’t confront. All that lends weight to the old adage that leadership is not a popularity contest.

But sometimes we disappoint or hurt people because we actually say or do something insensitive, ill-conceived or just plain dumb. And when that happens, we either clean up our mess or make some more. Experience tells me we often like to make some more.

Point in case, MP Adam Bandt made some offensive remarks in the media last week about Senator Jim Molan suggesting he may have committed war crimes during his role in the battle of Fallujah. Bandt’s baseless claims offended both Mr Molan, and much of the wider serving and ex armed forces community. Mr Molan asked for an apology and what Bandt eventually offered was just 6 words - 'I hereby apologise for those statements.’

That was, as Jim rightly pointed out, a ‘weak and disappointing apology.’ But before we all get too self-righteous, I bet we’ve all make weak and disappointing apologies from time to time. I sure have.

So how do you clean up your mess? How do you repair the damage to a relationship when there is a significant breakdown? Perhaps the best place to start is with owning your mess, and a darn good apology. But what is a good apology? The best answer I've found to that question is found in the  Peacewise 7A’s of a Confession model. The 7A’s process of preparing an apology are:

1. Address everyone involved in the situation.
2. Avoid self-justification and using words like ‘if’, ‘but’ and ‘maybe.’
3. Admit specifically what you did.
4. Acknowledge the hurt you’ve caused.
5. Accept the consequences of your behaviour.
6. Alter your behaviour and express how you’ll do it.
7. Ask for forgiveness.

I like this approach because, when followed, generates an expression of contrition that is more fully cognisant of the damage you’ve caused. It is often more significant to the offended and it builds greater self-awareness in the confession process – the lack of which is often why we get ourselves into trouble in the first place.

Adam Bandt did eventually offer a second apology (perhaps with gritted teeth) and it was much better. I suspect he was coached by some wise soul in a process much like this one.

I find the last A of the 7 particularly meaningful – Ask for forgiveness. There is something so important in actually asking for forgiveness. When we ask for forgiveness we aren’t just addressing the past but we are asking for a future where mercy overcomes judgement and we are released from guilt and restored to the other person. We ask for something that is beyond our control, a gift only the other person can give. And if they give it, we experience grace and true reconciliation.

What a victory that moment becomes. And what and profound echo of the even greater grace, forgiveness and reconciliation we can all receive when we humbly come to Jesus the same way.

 If you cover up your sin you’ll never do well. 

But if you confess your sins and forsake them, you will be kissed by mercy.

Proverbs 28:13