November 17, 2014

The Dos & Don’ts Behind Saying We’re Sorry.

Christian Gonzalez/Flickr Creative Commons

In the past month, two things happened to me: I wronged a dear friend terribly, and I have received some exceptionally half-assed apologies.

While all of this has caused my heart more hurt than I would like to feel, I am grateful for this learning experience. The combination of these events has made me do quite a lot of self-reflection and realize that while I will be the first to point out a bad apology, I am not much better at extending a proper and sincere apology.

I’ve always just assumed than an apology was two words and done; if saying “I’m sorry” is hard, then it must be sincere when we say it, right?

Well…as it turns out, no. That’s not enough. So for the last week I have tried to give myself some time to consider what constitutes a solid apology.

One major thing that I discovered is that a good apology should be complete acceptance of one’s own mistakes. When you apologize you should be willing to accept the fault. I took a look at some of the apologies I’ve received that upset me recently; I realized was that someone else apologizing for my behavior was not cool.

Someone telling me, “I am sorry that you feel that way” was not a helpful or honest apology. If you rear-ended someone on the highway because you were driving recklessly you shouldn’t say “I am sorry that you pulled out in front of me.”

You should say, “I am sorry that I was driving without caution.” Apologies are not the time to slyly place blame on someone else.

The next kind of apology that I realized should not be accepted is the “I’m sorry, but…” kind of apology. Again, “I’m sorry” should be an acceptance of one’s own mistakes, and never followed by an excuse. Anytime there is a “but” in an apology, we can assume that the person apologizing is not ready to take responsibility for his/her mistake. Instead they are still—on some level—placing the blame elsewhere.

Apologies should be sincere and without justification.

Do not apologize just to end a fight or keep an awkward situation at bay. If you’re fighting with a loved one and you apologize just to get back to being happy the apology-worthy situation is much more likely to repeat itself. If you do not feel that you owe an apology, than talk things through and try and decide on a compromise, rather than saying “I’m sorry” and repeating your mistake again tomorrow with a non-guilty conscious. Apologize only when you feel you have done something wrong.

After looking into my own attempts to make amends this is what I found:
it’s often better to apologize only after you’ve had time to reflect on your part in the conflict or problem. This goes back to not apologizing just to end an uncomfortable situation—sometimes we deserve to hurt for our mistakes.

The hurt can help us to understand how we could have hurt another person; the hurt can help us see why it might be difficult for the other person to forgive us.

I learned not to apologize with no intent of stopping harmful behavior. Actions speak louder than words, we’ve heard it a million times, and that’s because it’s true. Apologize only when you’re ready to stop your hurtful actions—and try not to be too upset if it’s too late.

Apologize in a way that your words match your actions.

Walk your talk.

Do not grovel for an unnecessary amount of time, that’s not healthy for anyone involved. However, after you’ve apologized for an incident be clear about the mistakes that you made, take responsibility and make sure that you’re not taking someone else’s forgiveness for granted. Not everyone gets a second-chance and if you’re lucky enough to be one of the people that does you should use that opportunity to spread happiness and solidarity to your relationship!



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Author: Portia Duke

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Christian Gonzalez 

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