I’m not apologizing for that…

battle royaleThe term battle royale comes from ancient Rome when two gladiators would fight until only one was left standing. Luckily we have evolved past such unproductive ways of being. Or have we?  

If you work in an office, are involved in a community group or have a family, you’ve experienced a modern day battle royale. It’s where two people have locked horns over something (usually no one can exactly remember what it was about) and in typical gladiator fashion, are willing to hold their position until all is lost.  

But unlike the king’s gladiators, we have a choice about what we are willing to sacrifice in order to be right. I can hear you thinking “But I wasn’t wrong and I’m not apologizing for what I didn’t do!” Okay. I’m not asking you to do that! But stay with me and let’s break it down.  

Likely the original incident was long ago. Am I right? It probably wasn’t so much an incident, as something subtle. Maybe a rule was broken, a mistake happened, something concrete was lost, or an invite wasn’t extended, but now it has gone from misunderstanding and hard feelings to a battle royale, then feelings were hurt. Because it takes at least two to have this level of on-going, sustainable conflict, both people somehow felt not heard, not respected, not appreciated, not loved, not seen or not remembered. It is that pain and hurt, shame and humiliation, sadness and grief that keep the fire of the battle raging.  

You’d be a unique human being if you haven’t experienced this situation. It is the hurt that needs to heal and it is an illusion that if the enemy falls on their sword, begs forgiveness and/or removes themselves from your life, you will feel better. The pain has to be healed by each of us – within ourselves first! Honest.  

I was hired by a company* where two key people had long ago had a falling out. No one in leadership was quite sure how it started, but it was causing a disruption within the organization. Both employees were valued and so leadership was willing to try coaching as a way to remedy the situation.  

After confidential interviews with everyone in the department (not directly focused on the incident or the two people – but focused on the stress), I could see that the fall out was impacting everyone. Publicly they were business like and polite, but the elephant in the room was making everyone uncomfortable, distracted and tense.  

After a few one-to-one coaching sessions one of the parties said to me, “Everything is going well except I’m waiting for _________to say she is sorry. Then everything will be perfect again.”  

This was my opening. The tiny sliver into which I could insert some suggestions that would facilitate change through self-awareness.  

I asked her to think back to the original situation. “What do you wish you had done differently in that moment? No matter how tiny or insignificant, what do you regret or feel badly about?"  

She considered for a few moments and through some coaching dialogue and clarifying questions, I was able to guide her back to a tiny step she took that she didn’t feel that great about. Maybe even a little ashamed. Or guilty. Where she had let HERSELF down.  

And I asked her, “Can you forgive yourself for that?”  

For a fleeting moment she looked at me like I was crazy (not the first time) and then her face softened. “Practice for a minute, silently if you wish, apologizing to yourself for letting yourself down. Feel the loss and sadness and disappointment as a result of that moment”.  

All the years of holding her gladiator stance came tumbling down. The release of soft tears, the softening of her heart and opening to possibilities were visible.  

As we closed the session, I offered a suggestion for consideration. “Consider if you would want to communicate that tiny regret to your colleague? You don’t have to apologize for or take ownership of all of it, but just that regret?”  

She said she’d consider that and within a few days she shared she had done so. And within a few more days her colleague had followed her modeling and done the same. The relationship has slowly and gently progressed into a highly effective working relationship. And since that time I’ve coached countless others (maybe even you) to utilize this same practice.  

Clearing out our internal gladiators takes a willingness to look inside instead of at our opponent – but what develops from that momentary discomfort is well worth it!  

Do you see yourself in this example? That is because we are all human and this type situation comes up in every setting I work. While the strategy is the same, the situation is a compilation of several stories.*  

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