(credit debaird) I learned something while I was involved briefly in the restaurant business: it’s important to follow the rule of the Three A’s. What are they? Acknowledge, Apologize, Act.
For whatever reason, our natural response to being accused of something is to deny it. Perhaps it’s a built in primal defense. Of course, this only angers the other person, especially if both of you know that you’re in the wrong. It gets even worse if both of you ignore the matter, because the person you’ve wronged is upset, but not talking with you. This of course makes it all worse.
Here’s a three-part solution to making things at least a little better:
- Acknowledge– First, acknowledge what the person has said, even if you disagree with their point of view, or if you felt misunderstood. Word it specifically the way they worded it to you, or at least in a way that references their perspective. “I wasn’t paying attention when you tried telling me about your day, and I barged in with my own stuff before fully listening to you.” It’s clear. It says you know what you’re being accused of. It’s their point of view. Bonus: Throw in a sentence empathizing with your accuser: “Clearly, this must’ve hurt your feelings as you were trying to share your excitement, and I was being rude.”
- Apologize-I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. I’m sorry I was rude. It’s important to be really straightforward. Do NOT put in your snide not-apologize at this point. “I’m sorry you got the impression I wasn’t listening. I’m sorry you think I wasn’t listening.” That comes off as “I’m not sorry, and I’m still not interested.”
- Act– This is usually fairly straightforward, too. You just say what you’re going to do differently next time. “In the future, I’ll focus on you and listen completely and engagingly until you signal that you’ve said everything you wanted to tell me.” Starting with those words is a bit of a diffuser. They help your accuser know that you’re going to take steps to be helpful next time.