Over the years I’ve learned there is an art and a definitive skill which needs to be developed in order to properly express apology. I will confess that I wasn’t very good at it in my past, but I make a conscience effort to be better and effective as I get older.
What is an apology: according to the dictionary it is “a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure.”
The words alone “I’m sorry” on there own are not enough. “I’m sorry you felt….” is not an apology. It transfer blame to the person who is hurt. It basically “sorry you feel that way but that’s your issue.”
“I’m sorry I caused you to feel hurt,” is an apology that expresses empathy and shows you understand that you hurt a person. Maybe it was not your intention but Newton’s Law says:
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
When you ask for forgiveness you are asking that person to bring down their wall of hurt or anger. As uncomfortable as it might feel, you have to own up to fact that your actions cause a negative reaction for someone else and fix it. You want them to trust you again with their emotions. Essentially you need to re-earn their good graces. That can be a tough thing to grasp. Because you too have emotions and may feel defiant. You yourself might be caught saying “After all I’ve done for them?!” or “They should know me better than this?!” This puts it on them and that makes it worse.
Learning to say you are sorry is one of those skills that is difficult to master. Many feel uncomfortable or think that is shows a sign of weakness. Some people have a tedancy to throw it around with too much casualness. Or say it because they feel that have to, not that they want to.
What makes for a good apology?
Acknowledgement. Recognizing that the person on the other end’s feelings are very real, and very valid.
Sincerity. Do not apologize for the sake of it’s something you’re supposed to do. A person will know if you are just giving them lip service or if you don’t care
Empathy. This shows you understand their feelings. You’ve taken a step back and considered how would I feel if the tables are turned. Maybe it was an accident, or a misunderstanding, but try to see if from that persons perspective.
Emotion. Words alone have no value if they are not back by true emotions and feelings. You need to convey that love and kindness to the person in your apology.
Selflessness. In that moment, make it about them, not about you. Focus on them. Trust that they will bring down that wall of hurt or anger, and allow for further discussions.
No Buts. We have a tendency to want to justify our actions. Leave it out. Adding the but will nullify the apology. It says I had a good excuse. It’s not to say what happened doesn’t warrant a conversation so you too can be understood, but in that moment it’s about fixing their hurt.
In-Person. If at all possible do an apology in person or on the phone. So much gets lost in translation or misinterpreted if it’s done over email or text. Let the person hear your words. Let them feel the emotion in your voice. This is probably the hardest part of an apology but it is so worth it.
Space. Allow a person space. Do not demand that they accept your apology immediately or enforce a timeline on them. Some people need to process and think on things. Give them space and give them time to come around to your apology. People have their own unique way to deal with their emotions that may not match your own, and you have to respect that.
A true apology should be intended to repair damage that has been created. Whether this is at home with loved ones, or at the office with a colleague. Despite if it was unintentional or intentionally meant to cause harm. It is a valuable skill that will help you foster healthy relationships for the future. It shows a huge amount of character to master the art of an apology.