When a person has made up their mind that there is only one acceptable response or only one appropriate approach and you have failed, for whatever reason, to do things “the right way,” what do you do?
In some settings, mandatory and specified actions may indeed be how a matter should be resolved. Requiring narrow prescriptive responses almost always comes because of a series of failures. Those failures may be accidental and sincere, yet are perceived as failures, or they may be the result of selfish or foolish thinking. Whatever the cause, in the mind of the offended, this is the end of the road.
What not to do. If done at all, do not lead with a correction of the other person’s thinking or behavior. The goal of this encounter is not to prove who is right, but instead, it is reconciliation. Attempts by either party to guilt manipulate the other by leading off with correctives assure failure. Both parties need to know they are heard.
For those seemingly impossible moments, I offer a generic example of my approach when trying to correct when I have failed. I have had to use it too often! The time and setting must be right. Gently and sincerely offer, “It is obvious to me that I have (offended, disappointed, hurt, etc.) you. I want you to know that I am deeply sorry about that! I can only hope that you will be willing to forgive me and let me try to make things right. Will you forgive me?” It is important to ask that question!
If they say “No!” or some version of “I don’t know.” Respond with, “I understand. Please think about it. When should I check back with you?” Then politely walk away. For positive responses, it is easy to know what to say. Adverse reactions will allow few if any options. I offer, “I stand ready to do whatever is right. Let me know when you think it is time for us to talk.”
Then walk away with a clear conscious. I am not suggesting you will feel good. That will follow. Sadly, some relationships will not survive. If you know that a large part of the blame lies with the other, remember Jesus’ response to his accusers, “When he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer.” (Matthew 27:12)