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A good apology is more than I am sorry

One of the biggest problems my clients complain about everyday is not that the person they love hurt them or did something wrong. It is the fact that the person didn’t apologize or the apology did not feel sincere.

Let’s face it.

We don’t really know how to apologize and the problem is that it has consequences. There are a lot of bad apologies these days. Some people start being “extra nice” by doing something the offended person like to obtain forgiveness; others behave “extra quiet” to not cause more damage, and others simple do not do anything at all, thinking that magic or time will sweep things away.

The bad news is: it doesn’t work that way. As Randy Pausch, author of the Last Lecture states “apologies as one of the most important skills to learn in our lives”. When we do not apologize for things we have done wrong to people, Pausch compares it to an “infection” that festers in relationships. If you want to improve your relationships, it’s time to learn the art of apology.

There are two reasons people apologize.

First, to make themselves feel better. All you need to do is to be willing to admit that you made a mistake. It is usually out of guilt and for one person’s benefit. The second type of apology is out of a genuine concern for the other person’s feelings and empathy. The concern is for both people or parts involved, not just for you. This type of apology facilitates forgiveness and heals relationships.

The Art of a Good Apology:

Here are the three steps to making a good apology.

  1. Say “I am sorry”. Acknowledge the other person’s feelings and express (yes say it, out loud) that you are sorry for the pain the person is experiencing. Here you can ask the other person what in particular caused the pain or injury. Saying I am sorry does not make you guilty already but expresses empathy and care for what the other person is feeling in the moment regardless of who or what caused it. People are different. Because something wouldn’t affect you doesn’t mean it cannot/might not affect other people.

Part 1: “I am sorry that you felt ignored and invisible during the party.” Be as specific as possible.

  1. Admit your fault. If you or your behavior was the cause of the injury, say it again, yes out loud. “It is my fault.” This is usually a good moment to ask how your actions or behavior affected them. Ah, do not question if it makes sense or not. Remember that feelings do not have to make sense, they just are. If possible repeat back what you heard to make sure you understood. In this moment it is crucial that you put your defenses down and just open your heart to hear the actual injury.

Part 2: “It is my fault. I was gone with my friends and boss most of the time and didn’t consider that you didn’t know most people.

  1. Ask what you can do to make things better. Aha… don’t think that because you said “I am sorry” things are over. Instead of rushing and offering what you think the solution would be or stopping at step 2, ask the person you offended what you can do to regain him or her trust. Most people have a clear idea of what you can do to repair the relationship. By asking them you have a much better chance of not making a mistake again.

What would you need from me next time when we go to a party from my work again?

Follow these easy steps and watch your relationships improve. Like any other skill it requires practice. If you find these steps difficult to follow, look into yourself and try to find out why it is so. Sometimes it is our dark spots and/or low self-esteem that hold us back from offering a good apology. But we can leave that topic for next opportunity.

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