Yesterday, one misplaced word in an email I wrote hurt the feelings of a close friend. Even though that was never my intention, it happened. I immediately made my amends and apologized, learning at a deeper level about the sensitivity I need when writing an email. There is an art to apologizing that goes way beyond making amends.
We apologize to be polite: I accidentally bump someone on a crowded bus, and I say “sorry”, meaning it. (If I don’t really mean it, that’s still me being polite, but now it’s not very meaningful).
We apologize as a sign of respect: I apologize for having to leave early, I promised my daughter… .
Apologizing has always been a social norm, and with the growth of social media, with people making blunders in front of millions, it’s become more visible.
And as apologizing becomes more visible, so does faking it.
Christina H in Cracked lists what she believes are the top 6 fakes: “I regret”, when I don’t actually regret anything; “Mistakes were made”, indicating no one in particular, except God or the Universe; apologizing for someone else, when we can really only apologize for ourselves; I’m sorry, but… , refocusing on the excuse or the other guy; pre-emptively apologizing to pre-emptively absolve myself of all wrongs; and finally, apologizing for something not at all bad instead of for the thing that hurt. Humans can be so creative!
Yet, it’s when we have hurt someone and want to make it right, that apologies have the power to change everything. This is when it’s most important to get it right.
Dr. Gary Chapman in his book Things I Wish I’d Known Before Getting Married gives us a 5-step way:
- Express regret – if we mean it, it shows that we are aware we have caused pain. “I’m so sorry I spoke that way. I know I’ve hurt your feelings and I’m really sorry.”
- Accept responsibility – spelling out what we did. “I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did.”
- Make restitution – showing that we want to make it up to the person we’ve hurt. “I want to make it up to you so that we can be friends again.”
- Expressing the desire to change behavior – making it real, showing with your actions that you mean it. “I lost my temper because of something that happened earlier; I need to take care of that right away instead of take it out on you.”
- Requesting forgiveness – the final essential step, because before the apology is seen as sincere, we need to ask for forgiveness, without any expectation that it will be given.
Apologies, given and accepted, have the power to change the world by restoring damaged relationships – between two people, between groups of people, even between nations.
Oprah apologizes to James Frey
Quote of the Week
An apology is a lovely perfume; it can transform the clumsiest moment into a gracious gift.
– Margaret Lee Runbeck