Apologies: we love them and we hate them. They make us feel better…sometimes. Sometimes, they don’t but they make us feel like we can’t really be angry anymore or hurt because the person is sorry. Sometimes, they don’t feel genuine. Sometimes, they’re not. Sometimes we offer them when we don’t really mean it, right? Sometimes, an offense feels like no amount of sorrow could offer any reprieve. Sometimes, we don’t want to say we’re sorry out of fear of being misunderstood, overlooked, or enabling. Sometimes we don’t want to say it because we don’t think we are sorry…or because apologizing would mean admitting we did something wrong. Hell, sometimes we mean to cause harm. Did you ever sit back and really think about how complicated an apology can be?
An apology is complicated…for the one giving it and the one receiving it. When delivered effectively, it can mean the difference between the end of a relationship or a stronger one.
It’s our inclination to be defensive. Someone accuses us of hurting them and we get so hell bent on proving that it wasn’t our intention that we forget they’re hurting. We want to make the hurting stop so we try and change their minds about how they interpreted things. We want the shame of being wrong or rude or inconsiderate to go away and it can’t until they understand why we did it. They MUST understand where WE are coming from! The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with some clarification, especially when someone is completely off base about your intentions, but here are some tips to make your apology worthwhile and impressive.
- Reflect what you’re hearing: For example: “You’re mad because I made plans without consulting you first.”
- Empathize: “That must be frustrating to think about rearranging your schedule for this unexpectedly and to feel like I didn’t care to ask you.”
- Reassure: “I want you to know that it wasn’t my intention to upset you or make you feel overlooked. I care more about you than that.”
- Apologize: “I’m sorry."
- Ask for forgiveness: “Please help me figure out how I can make this better?”
It’s a lot harder said than done! It requires breaking down the defenses and revealing vulnerability, which isn’t likely when you feel under attack. It helps to perceive the event differently. Think about how the kindest of dogs can become aggressive when they are injured. Pet owners tolerate that because they know their dog is hurting and not thinking straight. Here are some insights to inspire you to extend the same courtesy to the ones you care about.
- “When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.” –Louis C.K.
- “Apologizing doesn’t always mean you’re wrong and the other person is right. It means you value your relationship more than your ego.”
- Monitor your expectations about receiving a reciprocal apology.
Conflicts or distance will escalate when one is too stubborn to forgive and another is too proud to apologize. The best apology is one that is followed by changed behavior. If you remember nothing else about apologies, remember this; apologies don’t have buts.