The Essential Art of Repair

A User’s Guide to Extracting Foot from Mouth, Making Amends and Moving On.

Misunderstandings, mistakes, and disagreements happen all the time.  Every one of us comes with a unique understanding of the world and given our multitude of perspectives and opinions it would seem logical that at times we have disagreements and even arguments.  We also may have a bad moment where we say or do something without thinking that ends up hurting someone else or leaving us feeling pretty badly about how something went down. Without resolution, the uncomfortable energy between two people (or groups!) will grow and expand and the path to resolution becomes more difficult.  The key to managing these uncomfortable occurrences is through repair.  Here are 5 important things about repairing to keep in mind:


1. What does it mean to Repair?

What is repair anyway? Repairing means “To fix or mend (a thing suffering from damage or a fault)”.  This means that when we hurt someone – intentionally or not – there is damage to be mended.  Repairing means acknowledging the damage, owning our part in the damage, and conveying our regrets.  Be sure to include what you did or what you are sorry for.  A simple “I’m sorry” is easy, but an “I’m sorry I said such an awful thing” is more authentic and ensures that the repair touches the recipient by showing you truly understand what you did.  After that, we are free to move forward having done our part to rectify our action. 

2. Moving through the discomfort  

The awkward feeling that may come at the idea of admitting you made a mistake or are upset about something is way less impactful than letting something uncomfortable fester over time.  Biting the bullet and dealing with something up front will save you time, cost less energy, and minimize long-term damage to relationships.  When we avoid talking about the elephant in the room we spend huge amounts of willpower and capital!  It truly is easier to repair.

3. Be imperfect!  

The sky will not fall if you admit you made a mistake or were wrong. Some people think that if they admit a mistake they are casting themselves as “less than”or weak.  The reality is that it is much harder and takes much more courage to be authentic and own our actions than it does to avoid taking responsibility.

4. Be your best self - without expectations from others

People don’t have to accept your repair, understand your mistake, or repair back to make repair a success!  While that may sound a bit counter-intuitive, it’s important to bear in mind that the only thing in life we can control and can be responsible for is our own actions!  If you make a repair attempt that is authentic, direct, owns your part, and conveys compassion for the other party and their experience, then you have done what you can.  It is up to the other party to decide whether they are ready or able to move on from it.  Regardless of their decision, you can feel good knowing that you have done your part. 

5. Don't wait! 

Repair immediately - waiting, avoiding, or putting off the repair will only serve to increase your own anxiety and stress at the idea of revisiting the issue. Repairing in the moment will increase the likelihood that the repair is met positively and saves time on the back end.  Fix it quick so you can get on with your life! You know you have achieved the “art of repair” when you are able to hear yourself in the moment and immediately say “I can’t believe I just said that!” or “I’m sorry! I don’t know why I said x just now, that came out wrong!”.


We all make mistakes! There isn’t anyone among us who is perfect (who would want to be! Such pressure!) and therefore we have all been in the position of needing to repair.  If you are up against a particularly egregious mistake it may take time for a loved one to accept your repair, and that’s okay! Give them space to move through their process and stand steady in your empathetic position of repair with an open heart and open arms whenever they are ready to pick back up the relationship.