Getting to ‘Thank You’

Rewiring our Apologies…and Our Brains
by Chris Fitz

We were getting to end of dialogue. The woman who’d been robbed expressed her grace, that she didn’t hold this against the boy in front of her—or his mom. He was 15, with older friends, saw her get out of her car, waited, then jump into it, grabbing her belongings and ran.

Months later, they’re in the same room talking. He’s apologized. He thought she’d ream him out. Instead he’s experiencing her grace. “Every day, my family reminds me of this one thing I did. Now here you are, not judging me. I don’t know what to say.” He stops, as if paralyzed by a cocktail of overwhelming emotions, self-doubt and love.

There’s a pregnant pause. As if holding the hand of a young child, I quietly ask him. “What do you say to someone who is offering you this gift of forgiveness?”

Getting to Yes book cover

In their 1981 seminal best-seller Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and William Ury outlined key principles for better negotiation. They suggest people can better get what they want through a dialogue based on deeper interests rather than demands. The principles have endured, but nearly forty years later, we are still learning.

Trauma-informed research is showing how fundamental emotional growth and psychological development are to our well-being, our ability to function as rational adults. Fisher and Ury’s thesis relies on a high-functioning rationalism, a resilient emotional state in which people can feel safe and see a situation with increasing clarity. After the landmark ACES Study by Kaiser Permanente, it’s now clear that a huge portion of the US, especially those living in poverty, people of color and other marginalized groups, can’t as easily get to “yes.” More than 1 in 5 of our neighbors go about their day-to-day in a state of threat, with reduced physical and mental health capacities over the long-term.

In traditional thinking about restorative justice, like the conversation between our youth and the woman he robbed, the goal is an apology. Saying “sorry” makes everything better, right? But try this experiment: think of three situations where someone apologized to you. What did you feel? What did you say?

Over and over in restorative dialogue—and everyday life around me—I see people responding to “I’m sorry” with “it’s no problem.” No problem? Why? Because it’s emotionally burdensome to receive an apology. My experience is that a victim actually feels worse during the apology phase of a dialogue, not better. To ease our own burden (and feeling bad for them), we often minimize an offender’s actions.

“Thank you.”

That’s what the youth said to the woman he robbed. “Thank you for seeing me and not judging me.” With that, the conversation changed completely. No longer lost in childish self-pity, he was finding his own words, his own power, his own clear view of the woman who met him half-way. And in that moment, the victim was also being seen, recognized, appreciated, perhaps de-victimized. The conversation quickly shifted to making things right, creating an agreement, and “yes” came quickly.

At Advoz, we’ve heard incredibly positive feedback on “getting to thank you.” In a recent restorative dialogue, a remorseful but threatened offender was asked “what he appreciated” and began recognizing the value of others in the room – and not dwelling on his negative self-worth. It also gave victims more closure to focus on what they were thankful for, rather than the harm done. We’ve gone so far as to amend our Apology Letter Handout for court-referred offenders to include getting to ‘thank you.’

Neuroscience suggests that getting to ‘thank you’ is rewiring our brains to actually release trauma and build resilience. It doesn’t negate the need for an apology, but builds on it, taking the right kind of responsibility, and shifting apology to empowerment. Because with empowerment, “yes” is an easy step to take.

Anatomy of a transformative “Thank You”*

Try these “thank you’s” at home or work with a spouse, family member, child or friend, and let us know the results in the comment section below.

<What you did> made me feel <this way>.”

“You showing up today made me feel hopeful.”

“Your choice of words was careful and made me feel respected.”

“Just bringing up this difficult topic makes me feel uncomfortable but also hopeful that we can work it out.”

* Adapted from Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolence Communication.

Chris Fitz Advoz Director of Strategic Initiatives

Chris Fitz is Director of Strategic Initiatives at Advoz

Restorative Justice Conferencing Training- Fall


Advoz is welcoming you to participate in their spring 2019 Restorative Justice Training Conference. Both volunteers and business professionals will engage in training that encourages face-to-face restorative justice with both youth and adult offenders and those they’ve harmed. Throughout the sessions, trainees will practice Advoz’s three-step restorative justice conferencing process through role plays and learn about the justice system, the victim-offender conferencing process, victim’s rights and needs, ethics and crucial communication skills.

The intensive 35-hr training takes place between September 9 to October 19:

  • Monday, September 9, 6 – 9 pm
  • Wednesday, September 11, 6 – 9 pm
  • Thursday, September 12, 6 – 9 pm
  • Saturday, September 14th, 9 am – 5 pm

With interim online training until the final week:

  • Monday, October 14, 6 – 9 pm
  • Wednesday, October 16, 6 – 9 pm
  • Thursday, October 17, 6 – 9 pm
  • Saturday, October 19, 9 am – 5 pm

The fee for those planning to volunteer for the Advoz Restorative Justice conferencing program is $95, which covers the cost of training and materials, refreshments and professional leadership. Scholarships are available by contacting mila@advoz.org.

For those planning to use the training for professional development purposes, a fee of $375 will cover CLEs for attorneys or CEUs for social workers, training and materials, refreshments and professional leadership.

Those applying at the volunteer/scholarship rate must fill out the volunteer form as well.

Location: Millersville University Bolger Conference Center, 30 James Street, Millersville, PA

If you would like to volunteer in this program, complete both of the following forms by the deadlines listed to receive the volunteer rate.

If you are taking this training for professional development, simply select “Complete Registration.”

Register Now

Complete Registration


Around the Table: Creating Peace at the Advoz Annual Dinner

Nearly every day, Advoz brings youth and adults around tables to make transformative dialogue happen in our community and to help youth and adults add their voice and build tomorrow’s peaceable world.

A young man faces police for spraying illegal graffiti but makes things right in Advoz’s restorative dialogue, meeting and working with a professional artist who later mentors him in his career path. Advoz’s 2019 Around the Table Annual Dinner features the unique ways that youth and adults have created peace. From spraying graffiti, to studying graphic design, we can learn from the resilience and empowerment people experience in our face-to-face dialogue.

Join us for Advoz’s 2019 signature benefit event, Around the Table, an evening of learning, connecting and empowering our community’s reconciling potential. Treat yourself and your guests to a plated dinner at the Eden Resort, a fun live and silent auction and stories about Advoz’s work on the theme:

“Creating Peace”

Register or Sponsor Now

Join Advoz for an evening full of inspiration and support as we highlight the creativity and community connection that comes from face-to-face dialogue. Hear from a youth who started off illegally spray graffiti and eventually met his mentor where he found his creative voice as an artist. Become a sponsor now and ticket sales begin January 15th at www.AroundtheTable.org.

The event includes both live and silent auction, seated dinner and program.

Register or Sponsor Now

Over 38 years, thousands in the greater Lancaster community have experienced the power of dialogue in conflict resolution and restorative justice through Advoz and its parent organizations. From youth crime to families torn in conflict to cultural divisions, facilitated dialogue has provided hope, resolution and healing for young and old. You can join Advoz as a leader and sponsor to continue and expand this community-building work through the Around the Table event.

Made possible with this circle of support (and more to come):


Dialogue Dinner Sponsor

Community Sponsors

Gibbel Kraybill & Hess LLP

Restorative and Advocate Event Sponsors


Patron Sponsors

Lancaster County Financial Group

Esbenshade Greenhouses

Register or Sponsor Now