The Power of Apology
Have you ever been given an apology that lacked any sincerity or depth, making you feel worse afterward? Or not apologized to someone you needed to, resulting in distance and strain on the relationship?
Apologies can be complicated for a host of reasons. Obviously, they usually occur after someone has been wronged in some way, bringing out emotions that people are uncomfortable experiencing or being witness to. Many times both parties feel wronged in some way and are expecting the opposite party to apologize first. And there are even some people who are reluctant (or even refuse) to give apologies, fearing that it’s a sign of weakness.
Underneath the discomfort of it all lies the power of apology. Apologies have the ability to disarm people of their anger, heal emotional wounds, mend relationships and strengthen our connections.
For those of you concerned that apologizing makes you look weak- It actually takes great strength and self confidence to deliver a sincere and constructive apology in which you are owning your role in something that hurt someone else.
As kids, most of us were taught to say we were sorry if we did something unkind or that hurt someone else, with no further instruction or explanation. As a result, we are now adults who do not fully understand the meaning and benefits of apologies, let alone what they entail.
So what does make for a good apology? Two 2016 studies by The Ohio State University and Eastern Kentucky University found that not all apologies are equal, and that an effective and healthy apology consists of 6 elements.
Six components of a good apology:
1. Expression of regret. “If I had it to do over again, I’d do it differently…”
2. Explanation of what went wrong. Explain what happened, but be careful not to confuse this with justifying your actions or words.
3. Acknowledge responsibility. Be strong enough to acknowledge and take responsibility for unintentionally (or intentionally) hurting someone.
4. Declaration of repentance. Be specific. “I’m sorry you felt hurt/angry/sad when I _____.” This is where I find adding in some empathy helps too. “I would have felt the same way if I had been in your shoes.” Or at the very least, “I can absolutely see how you interpreted what happened in a hurtful way.” Empathy is the key to human connection, and this is a fantastic opportunity to do some connecting.
5. Offer of repair. Ask “What can I do to make this better?”
6. Request for forgiveness. This is actually the least important of all of the components. If you do the other things well, you don’t even really need to ask for forgiveness.
Note: After your apology has been accepted it’s not a bad idea to discuss a plan for the future- to avoid the situation from happening again.
Also, a few words about what not to do with an apology. First, do not use it as a way of getting what you want from someone else. And secondly, do not use it as a means of garnering an apology from that person- even if you deserve one. Your apology to them is about taking responsibility for your part and is not conditional on them accepting responsibility for the hurt that you incurred.
The Many Benefits of Apology (for both parties):
Decreased blood pressure.
Reduced heart rate.
Normalized, calm breathing.
Prevents us from being stuck in the past.
Opens the door to forgiveness.
Reduces shame (of both parties).
Increases self respect.
Acts as a deterrent from committing similar future missteps.
As for accepting an apology (if you do) - agreement seems to be in the camp of thanking the apology giver and letting them know that you appreciate their effort and courage.
What not to do:
Avoid statements like “That’s ok.” This is a knee jerk response that we all have given, but a message that we don’t want to send.
Don’t rub their nose in it or belittle them. (Otherwise that might the last apology you ever get).
If you aren’t ready to accept an apology it’s still ok to acknowledge their effort, but just let them know that you need some time to process what’s happened.
The bottom line:
Apologies are either an opportunity to have someone harbor bad feelings, or it’s an opportunity to grow closer.
When a poor apology is issued people can be left feeling alone, misunderstood, angry and distant from each other.
When a good apology is issued, people can feel closer, more understood, cared about and safe to be vulnerable and authentic in the future.
Especially now - when we are all struggling with something in our lives, we need to band together and take care of each other the best we can.
For more information contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org