Since we are human, it is inevitable that we will make mistakes. When we do, we need to know how to make amends. One of the steps is to make an effective apology,
one where our only agenda is to heal the damage to the relationship as a result of our words or actions. Research has shown that genuine apologies help us reconnect with those we’ve wronged by letting them know we’re aware that what we’ve done affects them. Yet, so many of us manage to sabotage our own efforts in one or more of these six ways.
If we can avoid these six pitfalls while expressing our remorse or regret – key to making an effective apology, we won’t negate our best efforts and intentions. We will have taken an important step in righting our wrong and putting our relationship back on track.
When we blame others for what happened, we are attempting to find and fix fault. The problem is that in so doing, we fail to accept responsibility for our contribution to diminishing the trust, respect and goodwill in our relationship.
When we follow an apology with an explanation, we are defending our actions rather than expressing regret for them. If the other person seeks an explanation, resist the urge to offer one. There really is no justification for damaging the relationship, and it’s the damage to the relationship, not the specific actions, that is the basis for the apology. If the other person offers an explanation, our best bet is to listen and remain silent. Our silence is not the same as our agreement with their perspective; we’re simply allowing them to share their view.
An apology that attempts to prove the problem was not our fault is doomed to fail before we ever start simply because it is not an apology. For instance, we’re late for an important family dinner because heavy traffic on the freeway delayed our arrival by an hour. We can’t apologize for the traffic that caused our tardiness; neither do we need to try to excuse our lateness. We can apologize that our late arrival caused disappointment and inconvenience and our wish that the situation were different.
An apology laced with self deprecation is designed to override the other’s feeling of offense and elicit their support for us by making them feel guilt. When our apology is primarily about how badly we feel for our actions, then our focus is on us, and not on the other person. While we may be sincere, we may also be trying to force a statement of forgiveness or at least dissipate any feelings of ill-will towards us. When we focus on the damage we have done, and not on our feelings of guilt, our apology is genuine.
We cannot simultaneously be sincere in our apology while manipulating the other person. This happens when we repeatedly apologize for our repeated bad actions when what we really need to do is make a change. For instance, we apologize for lying, yet we continue to lie. Or we repeatedly drink to the point of embarrassing ourselves and others with our drunken actions. An apology does not vindicate our bad behavior. An honest apology carries with it the intention to discontinue those actions and choices.
While we’d like the other person to listen to our apology without interrupting us, we also need to be prepared to patiently listen, even when their emotions run high and their interpretation or memories of the event are significantly contradicted by our own. This can be incredibly hard to do when we are repeatedly interrupted while trying to finish the same single sentence and the other person is insistent on misconstruing the meaning of our partially finished statement. When that happens, our silence is necessary. By allowing the other person to speak, uninterrupted, we communicate that we care about the relationship. In extreme situations, we may need to postpone our apology to another time when the person can listen to us.
Offering up an effective apology doesn’t involve groveling or debasing ourselves. An apology is unequivocally clear and does not include reasons, rationales or excuses. We apologize to make the other person feel better, not to make ourselves feel better. As mature adults who care for those around us, we own up to our mistakes and set them right.
Life Is Honest, Open and True:
We don’t want to step in it when we make an apology, we want our apology to be effective. When we are willing to clear the air of a past mistake, we get to know ourselves a little bit better and we pave the way for a stronger relationship in the future. The choice is ours.
Do you have a suggestion for how to make an effective apology? Tell me about it in the comments or tweet me @lifeishotblog with the hash tag #LifeIsHOT!
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