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What a Real Apology Looks Like

What a Real Apology Looks Like

“I can wholeheartedly apologize for not being at all sorry. And it really is the least I can do.” ~April Winchell

Have you noticed there is a sanitized, politically correct version of apologies that is all the rage these days? You walk away from these apologies mildly unsettled that you don’t actually know what they said, and you certainly don’t know what they meant.

One of my favorites is, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Allow me to translate that. It means, “I’m sorry for me that you are getting it so very wrong.” My friends, this isn’t an apology—it is an exercise in self-pity wrapped in clever conceit.

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Another common device is a statement like, “Mistakes were made.” Really? By whom? Is the unknown mistake-maker sorry for what they did, or merely for getting found out? Were these mistakes just practical errors or moral failures? Such an apology opens up more questions than it answers. Actually it doesn’t answer any questions at all.

What’s the Point of an Apology?

If we are ever going to figure out what a real apology looks like, we are going to have to go back to why we would ever make an apology in the first place. Consider some possibilities:

  • I would like to right a wrong; my wrong
  • I have new information that impacts my past actions
  • Other people expect an apology

To put it another way, the possibilities are:

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  • I was wrong and I knew it
  • I was wrong and I didn’t know it until now
  • Other people think I was wrong

The first one is the simplest. If you were wrong and you knew it, say so. Like this: “I was wrong. Worse yet, I knew I was wrong. I’m sorry about any pain or problems that I caused as a result.” This is complete ownership of every aspect of the situation. The beauty of this is there is nothing left for someone to take issue with—you own it all. Sure, others may still be mad and there may be resulting consequences, but this is the most complete clean-up that is possible.

The second one is a little trickier. It will be tempting to say, “I was wrong but…” Using the word “but” is dangerous in apologies. Functionally speaking, “but” means “ignore everything I said before the ‘but’.” “I’m sorry I was late but the traffic was terrible” becomes “The traffic was terrible, so I’m not sorry at all.”

First, lose the “but”. “I’m sorry I was late; the traffic was terrible.” This one is better, but it can be improved even more. (Notice what “but” did to my last sentence. By using “but” I have said that being better doesn’t matter because it can be improved even more. This is a proper use of “but”.)

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Next, fix the order. “Traffic was terrible. I’m sorry I was late.” You have delivered information about the traffic and yet you did not weaken your apology. It doesn’t matter why you didn’t meet expectations, you didn’t meet them. Again, own it. It makes your apology powerful and meaningful.

But I Wasn’t In The Wrong…

Of all possible scenarios, the one where others expect an apology and you don’t feel you owe one is the toughest. Lying is not the answer. Insincerity isn’t either. Hopefully we have already dismissed misdirection and superficial avoidance, so should you just jut out your chin and refuse to apologize?

There is a softer approach. You can acknowledge their offense. “I can see that you are upset.” You can state that if you saw it their way you would likely feel the same way they do. “If I had counted on you to be here at 2:00, I would be unhappy too.”

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Now pay close attention. Don’t say “but”. If you do, you just take back your acknowledgements and they are valuable. “When we last spoke I wrote down the time we agreed on. I heard 2:30.” By saying, “I heard” you again take ownership. It’s not about what they said, it’s about what you heard. They can’t deny what you heard even if they insist it isn’t what they said. Give them credit for that. “You may well have said 2:00 but I heard 2:30.” (Again, a correct use of “but”.) Maybe they said 2:30. Maybe they didn’t. It doesn’t matter now.

Wrap it up with, “I am sorry about our misunderstanding.” Note, it’s “our”. There is no denying that you are not understanding each other in this moment—the person who is responsible for the the misunderstanding is irrelevant as far as your apology goes.

The Genuine Article

A real apology does not hide or fake; it is simply considerate of the other person. You don’t have to lose your pride either. Taking ownership is the most straightforward way to preserve it.

You don’t have to be wracked with angst to give a heartfelt apology. The other person is experiencing something they don’t like whether it’s suffering or annoyance or confusion and your apology can mitigate or diffuse their discomfort without transferring it to you. You get to be the bigger person. When it comes right down to it, getting good at apologizing is freeing and apologizing sincerely is a powerful thing to do.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

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