You reach for the same chicken leg on the platter as your sister at exactly the same time. You laugh, and say “sorry!”
But whether it comes to everyday apologies over minutiae or major issues that arise from harsh words exchanged – often, an apology is the last 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 well-intentioned 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 came 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 to be of little importance. In fact, admitting to ignorance may also be seen as unacceptable, which could explain the number of times on one particular trip that well-meaning individuals offered detailed directions which never led to my destination!
I won’t say that apologizing has always been easy for me. I have my share of pride, and apologizing in certain circumstances used to be nearly impossible.
What I realized with the years – and closer observation of others’ feelings – is that an apology is often in order even if only to take partial responsibility for a situation that involves multiple players, multiple reasons, and “imagined” wrongs rather than actual acts.
Perhaps that’s the crux right there. Misunderstandings. “Imagined” wrongs, not to mention confusing backbone for stubbornness, and letting stubbornness stand as an obstacle to conciliatory gestures.
Who Do We Apologize For? Ourselves? The Other Person?
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.
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.
By being specific, and explaining what I was thinking, feeling, or assuming, 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.”
So what about the “false sorry?”
I won’t say I’ve never done it. I have. But I choose words carefully as a general rule; I’ll seek an alternative to the inauthentic apology if I’m genuinely not sorry about a situation or action.
- When do you find it hard to apologize?
- Do you apologize when you don’t mean it – to make peace?
- Are you part of a culture that frowns on admitting fault in any way?