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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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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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