Stop. Saying. Sorry. I’ve repeated those words to myself a thousand times, and written them as well as a means to reinforce the lesson.
On the other hand, a sincere apology extended when you are truly contrite is a start at making amends, when amends are what you genuinely desire.
For some, apologies are almost never offered. I’ve known men and women both who rarely utter the words “I’m sorry.” The reasons vary — they’re convinced they’re always right, they’re unwilling to own responsibility for mistakes, or they’re uncomfortable with articulating what might be perceived as weakness. I’m certain there are more causes than these including habit.
From the archives, more on the why’s, wherefores, and benefits when it comes to extending a meaningful apology.
The Knee-Jerk Apology
You step on someone’s foot in line. It’s automatic. You say “sorry.”
You reach for the same slice of meat on the platter as your sister at exactly the same time. You laugh, and say “sorry!”
But you’re dealing in everyday apologies over minutiae or major issues that arise from harsh words exchanged – often, an apology is the last and most important communication tool in your arsenal.
Do you know how and when to offer an apology?
Excusing ourselves is much more than adhering to social convention. It’s about the ability to admit fault in a formulaic manner or as an act of real contrition.
Apologies are Cultural as well as Personal
I used to believe that apologizing was purely an individual issue. A matter of stubbornness if someone refused to say he was sorry. I thought that some of us know how to admit we’re wrong – or understand the necessity of extending an olive branch – and others don’t.
But I’ve come to understand the cultural component by virtue of working overseas and traveling a good deal. Admitting fault can be seen as weakness – in business or otherwise – even if over something that might seem to me of little importance. In fact, admitting to ignorance may also be viewed as unacceptable, which could explain the number of times on one particular trip that well-meaning individuals offered detailed directions that never led to my destination!
When Apologies Don’t Come Easily
I won’t say that apologizing has always been easy. I have my share of pride, and apologizing in certain circumstances used to be a painful exercise.
What I realized with the years, and closer observation of others’ feelings, is that an apology is often in order even if only to share responsibility for a troubling situation that involves multiple players, multiple agendas, and “imagined” wrongs rather than intentionally harmful acts.
Perhaps that’s the crux right there. Misunderstandings. “Imagined” wrongs. And a confusing backbone for stubbornness, as well as allowing stubbornness (or pride) to stand as an obstacle to conciliatory gestures.
Who Do We Apologize For?
Sometimes we apologize for ourselves. So we feel better. Less guilty.
Sometimes we apologize for the other person. We recognize the hurt we caused; we want to rectify it quickly.
Sometimes we apologize too easily, too frequently, and fall into patterns of the people pleaser. Excessive apologies accomplish little in the long run, and problematic behaviors are never adequately addressed.
Often, we apologize for the benefit of a healthy ongoing relationship. We don’t want the proverbial elephant in the room – so we say we’re sorry to clear the air.
Parents Must Apologize, Too
As a parent, I have learned to apologize to my children when I respond with anger fueled by other worries. Among other things, we expect our adolescents to apologize to us when they step out of line, don’t we? Shouldn’t we serve as an appropriate model?
When I’m in a romantic relationship, I have learned to apologize if my mood turns irritable or my words, too harsh. And I understand that both are more apt to occur if I am sleep-deprived, in pain, or extremely stressed.
By being specific and explaining what I was thinking, feeling, or assuming at the time I spoke or did something that unintentionally hurt, I’m sharing insight with those to whom I wish to apologize. It softens the process for me, as well as enabling the other person to accept the apology more readily – knowing that it’s sincere, and clearing up any assumptions or misunderstandings.
How to Apologize
I find that specifics are helpful when we apologize. If I wish to offer an apology for a stress-induced tone, I might say
I’ve had this deadline on my mind all day, and it’s wearing on my nerves. I’m sorry for snapping at you.
Depending upon the person – a loved one or friend – I may use body language to reinforce my effort at conciliation, reaching out and touching an arm or hand.
Other examples of apologies?
A hug, a kiss, a smile, a simple and heartfelt “sorry.”
Too many apologies with no change in behavior? Too many apologies when circumstances are beyond your control?
Both may be of little consequence in the long run if friction remains unchallenged and real communication cannot lighten the load.
The False Sorry
Say Hello to the serial apologist! I’m sure we’ve all encountered those whose “sorry” is uttered with no comprehension of the actual wrong. This is what I think of as the “false sorry.”
I won’t say I’ve never done it. But generally, I prefer not to extend an inauthentic gesture unless it serves a vital purpose. Instead, I try to speak my mind but not offend, and if I do, I hope I’m adult enough to sincerely apologize.
Like any other imperfect human being, when I’m upset I’m as likely as anyone else to cross a line in anger. I also understand that sometimes “sorry” is not enough, and only time — if we’re lucky — will put a misunderstanding or misstep into proper perspective.
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