Painting by Belynda Wilson Thomas
Never ruin an apology with an excuse. Unknown
We probably all believe we should be strong enough to admit we are wrong and make amends. What if we don’t think the other person or people should be offended? Do we apologize just for appeasement?
An apology is a show of strength. It’s an act of true honesty, being that we admit we did something wrong. It’s an act of generosity because it restores the self-concept of those we offended. It offers hope for a renewed relationship and strengthens our connection with the people we hurt.
We can hurt other people when we have insulted others intentionally or unintentionally. When we hurt others unintentionally we often feel they are too sensitive. “You know what I meant, even if that isn’t what I said.”
There are four basic motives for apologizing taken from Psychology Today Go Ahead, Say You’re Sorry.
The first is to salvage or restore the relationship. Whether you’ve hurt someone you love, enjoy, or just plain need as your ally in an office situation, an apology may well rekindle the troubled relationship.
You may have purely empathic reasons for apologizing. You regret that you have caused someone to suffer and you apologize to diminish or end their pain.
Some people apologize simply to escape punishment, such as the criminal who apologizes to his victim in exchange for a lesser plea.
Others apologize simply to relieve themselves of a guilty conscience. They feel so ashamed of what they did that, even though it may not have bothered you that much, they apologize profusely. A long letter explaining why the offender was a half-hour late to dinner would be such an occasion. And in so doing, they are trying to maintain some self-respect, because they are nurturing an image of themselves in which the offense, lack of promptness, violates some basic self-concept.
Arguments drag out because one is too stubborn to forgive and the other is too proud to apologize. Unknown
The largest stumbling block to apologizing is our belief that doing so is a sign of weakness and an admission of guilt. Many of us have the misguided belief that we are better ignoring or denying and become defensive instead of just saying I’m sorry.
Here’s the rub and what I think gets us in trouble, what are we saying we are sorry for? Sometimes we are sorry because someone took something the wrong way, or believes we did something we believe we did not do. We didn’t mean what they think we meant. Should it hurt us to apologize when our speech filter isn’t working one hundred percent? Or do we get our back up because although we do know our speech filter wasn’t working one hundred percent, we are now offended that our awkwardness with words is interpreted how it is?
We feel as offended as the people we have offended. Sometimes we get our back up and we are more offended than those we offended. Sometimes the people who could be offended aren’t as offended as those that are offended on their behalf.
What of the botched apology; the apology which is intended but not delivered perhaps by ineptness and awkwardness, or delivered but not accepted. Failed apologies can have serious social consequences and strain a relationship beyond repair, or worse, create life-long grudges and bitter vengeance.
The most compelling and common reason to apologize is over a personal offense. Whether we’ve ignored, belittled, betrayed, or publicly humiliated someone or groups of someone’s, the common denominator of any personal offense is that we’ve diminished or injured someone’s view of themselves. How we view ourselves is how we feel about who we are, how we would like to be, and how we want to be perceived by others.
ANATOMY OF AN APOLOGY – taken from Psychology Today – Go Ahead, Say You’re Sorry
But in practice, it’s not as easy as it sounds. There’s a right way and a wrong way to apologize. There are several integral elements of any apology and unless they are accounted for, an apology is likely to fail.
First, you have to acknowledge that a moral norm or an understanding of a relationship was violated, and you have to accept responsibility for it. You must name the offense–no glossing over in generalities like, “I’m sorry for what I have done.” To be a success, the apology has to be specific–“I betrayed you by talking behind your back” or “I missed your daughter’s wedding.”
You also have to show you understand the nature of your wrongdoing and the impact it had on the person–“I know I hurt you and I am so very sorry.”
This is one of the most unifying elements of the apology. By acknowledging that a moral norm was violated, both parties affirm a similar set of values. The apology reestablishes a common moral ground.
The second ingredient to a successful apology is an explanation for why you committed the offense in the first place. An effective explanation makes the point that what you did isn’t representative of who you are. You may offer that you were tired, sick, drunk, distracted, or in love–and that it will not happen again. Such an explanation protects your self-concept.
Ultimately, the success of an apology rests on the dynamics between the two parties, not on a pat recipe. The apology is an interactive negotiation process in which a deal has to be struck that is emotionally satisfactory to both involved parties.
But apologies are useful only if done right. There are in the public arena ample examples of what not to do–stunning portraits of failed apologies. They typically take the form of what I call “the pseudo apology”–the offender fails to admit or take responsibility for what he has done.
The most common cause of failure in an apology–or an apology altogether avoided–is the offender’s pride. It’s a fear of shame. To apologize, you have to acknowledge that you made a mistake. You have to admit that you failed to live up to values like sensitivity, thoughtfulness, faithfulness, fairness, and honesty. This is an admission that our own self-concept, our story about our self, is flawed. To honestly admit what you did and show regret may stir a profound experience of shame, a public exposure of weakness. Such an admission is especially difficult to bear when there was some degree of intention behind the wrongdoing.
Egocentricity also factors into failed or avoided apologies. The egocentric is unable to appreciate the suffering of another person; his regret is that he is no longer liked by the person he offended, not that he inflicted harm. That sort of apology takes the form of “I am sorry that you are upset with me” rather than “I am sorry I hurt you.” This offender simply says he is bereft–not guilty, ashamed, or empathic.
Timing can also doom an apology. For a minor offense such as interrupting someone during a presentation or accidentally spilling a drink all over a friend’s suit, if you don’t apologize right away, the offense becomes personal and grows in magnitude. For a serious offense, such as a betrayal of trust or public humiliation, an immediate apology misses the mark. It demeans the event. Hours, days, weeks, or even months may go by before both parties can integrate the meaning of the event and its impact on the relationship. The care and thought that goes into such apologies dignifies the exchange
Far and away the biggest stumbling block to apologizing is our belief that apologizing is a sign of weakness and an admission of guilt. We have the misguided notion we are better off ignoring or denying our offenses and hope that no one notices.
All dimensions of the apology require strength of character, including the conviction that, while we expose vulnerable parts of ourselves, we are still good people.
Is too glib an apology worse than no apology?
I never knew how strong I was until I had to forgive someone who wasn’t sorry and accept an apology I never received. Unknown
Sorry, I’m not perfect, but definitely not fake. Unknown
Apologizing does not always mean that you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means that you value your relationship more than your ego. Unknown
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