Five Core Competencies of Conflict Resolution Part Four: Ask for Forgiveness

by Rick Love

Asking for forgiveness is humbling. Who likes to admit they’re wrong? But if we want to make things right, we need to do this right.

This blog is part four of a series on the five core competencies of conflict resolution: 1) Take Responsibility  2) Lovingly Reprove 3) Accept Reproof 4) Ask for Forgiveness and 5) Forgive others. In this blog we will look at what it means to ask for forgiveness.


Ask for Forgiveness: the Fourth Core Competency of Conflict Resolution

When we do ask for forgiveness, we often do it poorly. Here's a common attempt at apology: "I'm sorry that you feel that way." There are two things wrong with this apology. First, saying “I’m sorry” is not enough. Jesus talks about forgiveness, not simply feeling sorry. There is a big difference between the two. Second, by focusing on the other person's feelings we are essentially blaming them for the way they feel, as though it were their problem, not ours.

Feeling sorry merely describes the state of our emotions. And let’s be honest, we can be sorry for the wrong reason. Many feel sorry because their wrongdoing makes them look bad. They are more concerned about how they look than they are about the broken relationship. They are more concerned about guarding their own reputation than about confessing their sin.

So how do we ask for forgiveness? We ask for forgiveness from others the same we way ask for forgiveness from God -- through confession of our sin. 

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

"He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy" (Proverbs 28:13).

Thus, to ask for forgiveness means we confess the wrongdoing that caused the conflict, invite the other person to respond, and ask for pardon. It means we acknowledge what we have done wrong specifically.

We say, "I was wrong to _________", and we name the offense. Then we follow up by asking them if they want to talk about how our actions or words impacted them. This is when we must stop talking.

The art of asking for forgiveness demands listening. We need to give the other person a chance to forgive us, to ask us questions, or share their pain about the conflict. We need to listen empathically so we can feel how our wrongdoing hurt the other person. If they refuse to talk about it, then we must accept this. We cannot force reconciliation.

Finally, we humbly apologize: "I was wrong to ________. Will you forgive me?"

I get a lot of practice asking for forgiveness, so here’s another thing I have learned the hard way. Ask for forgiveness, don't demand it. It is a humble request, not a command.

I remember many times I would ask my daughters for forgiveness, but it came across as a command. Part of this was due to the power differential between us. I am the parent, the one in authority, so they felt pressured to forgive, whether they wanted to or not.

Eventually I learned that I needed to give them time to forgive me. I also need to give my wife time to forgive me sometimes. It may take time for the one offended to take us at our word and to trust us again. That’s ok!

If we are serious about true intimacy with the person, we may want to ask them if we have hurt them in other ways. We can also ask if there is something we can do to make restitution or to show the sincerity of our apology.

One final tip: do not ask for forgiveness and then give an excuse for your behavior! For example, do not say: “I was wrong, and I realize I hurt you, but I have been facing so much stress recently.” Making excuses for our wrongdoing negates the sincerity of our request for forgiveness, even if our excuse is 100-percent justifiable.

Let me close by recommending two excellent books on forgiveness. First, The Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas. The Five Languages of Apology reflects a full-orbed biblical understanding of what forgiveness entails rather than just describing people’s preferred language. In other words, I think we should use all five languages when we ask for forgiveness – or at least most of them. Second, Brian Zahnd’s Unconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness is another brilliant work. May the prophetic words of Brian sink into our souls:

“Forgiveness is God’s way of achieving peace. In fact, it is ultimately the only way of achieving peace between alienated parties. Justice alone is incapable of producing peace. The peace the Bible is interested in involves not only the cessation of hostilities but also the reconciliation of enemies. This is why the followers of Christ, who are both the recipients and practitioners of radical forgiveness, should be the leading authorities on peace” (p 205). 


Nicole GibsonCONFLICT