We are all fallible creatures, bumping around the place, trying to live our lives the best we can and in doing so are prone to miscommunicate, misinterpret, misspeak and mishear. Apologising and making amends is part of being more conscious, deepening understanding and strengthening our integrity and trustworthiness. Making a sincere or genuine apology to someone we love or care about is our admission and acknowledgement that we have caused hurt or harm, whether intentional or not.
An apology isn’t focusing on the intent but rather on taking responsibility for the impact. Taking responsibility is a step towards becoming awake around some of our more hurtful behaviours.
Why Apologising to Strangers Is Easier than to Those We Love
We are apologising to strangers all the time on a daily basis. When we bump into someone whilst walking in the street, we quickly apologise. When we inadvertently jump ahead of someone in a supermarket queue, we apologise. I’ve even heard people apologise about the rain. The words ‘I’m sorry’ seem to roll off the tongue automatically and we move on. So why is it so hard to make a personal apology to someone close to us or someone we are meant to love.
Apologising to those we are close to is difficult because it requires humility. We find ourselves in the one down position where there is an admission of error, an exposure of our fallibility or our unconsciousness. In this admission there is a certain vulnerability. It takes humility to make a sincere apology, and for some people our humility can feel uncomfortably close to humiliation.
For some there is a such a feeling of shame or guilt around our actions that we get stuck and freeze in facing the other person. Before we go into some steps for making a sincere apology, it is good to look at what doesn’t work when we are embarking on making repair.
The Apologies That DON’T work
Most of us have been on the receiving end of a bad or insincere apology. (Perhaps we’ve also been an offender). The lack of sincerity in a bad apology can leave us feeling doubtful, confused and quite possibly more hurt than we started with.
- The “I’m Sorry If…” apology
It’s confusing and even inflammatory to be on the receiving end of an “I’m sorry If…” apology. These are often vague and nebulous and don’t really acknowledge any responsibility for hurt. Many politicians have got this kind of apology down to a fine art. It may be something like: “Well I’m sorry, if I hurt you.” Or worse still, we might get, “Well I’m sorry if you feel hurt.” This is the apology that isn’t really making an apology. The emphasis is on the ‘if’ with the onus being on the one hurt needing to take responsibility for the problem.
The “I’m Sorry If…” apology, doesn’t really seem to say or know what they did, and so can’t really offer to not do it again. There is no repair possible in this and it creates a feeling of unsafety.
- The “I’m Sorry You feel That (not)” Apology
This is a more passive aggressive or martyry variance to the “I’m Sorry If…” apology. It may be expressed as: “I’m sorry if you feel that way.” Or “I thought I was being helpful. I’ve tried so hard, I’m sorry you don’t see that.”
Basically this is the ‘stuff you’ apology that is delivered with a good dose of martyr. It is not only not apologising, but has an underlying tone of anger that the victim has had the temerity to raise an issue with them.
- The “Yes, But, No But” Apology
This non apology, apology is the ‘yes, but’ apology. It defends the offender’s hurtful behaviour. It is often expressed as “I’m sorry, but I only said those things because you made me so angry.” This not only takes the responsibility off the offender, but it deflects the hurtful behaviour . This one can do your head in, because it looks like an apology only because it starts with ‘I’m sorry’ but ends with an attack.
What A Sincere Apology Can Do
A sincere apology opens up the conversation between you and the other person. It can be very challenging for someone to come forward and share something that hurt them. We often go through our own inner angst about whether to raise something. Many of us can spend time internalising an issue and often unjustly blaming ourselves for what happened. It takes courage to speak out. So when we can listen and validate the other person’s feelings, we restore dignity to the person we offended.
It is an act of courage, dignity and integrity to step up and take responsibility for a mistake or an hurt. This is part of our personal growth that strengthens our self-confidence, our self respect and our trustworthiness. When the air has been cleared around an issue with adequate repair it is like a rainbow after a storm. Everyone feels a sense of relief and goodwill can be restored.
7 Steps to Making a Sincere Apology and Repair
- Stop and Listen to what the complaint is about. It can take courage to speak out about an issue. Even if you don’t immediately agree, take a breath and suspend your own reaction to what’s being said and just listen. When we are listening we can get a lot of information, not just from the words but the impact of the issue has had on the other person’s feelings. This will help in offering a genuinely empathetic response. Taking responsibility involves a willingness to step up and be willing to witness the pain or distress that you’ve caused. We may need to listen to the other person’s pain, anger or fear before we can apologise sincerely.
- Get clear in your mind about what you’re apologising for and the impact this has had. Ask the other person if you could repeat back what you’ve heard so that you are clear that you’ve understood what you’re apologising for. Once you’ve done so you may ask them if you’ve understood their complaint correctly. E.g. you might say “If I understand correctly, when I did (or didn’t do) XX that made you feel YY. Did I hear that right?“ Give them an opportunity to clarify if they need to.
- Apologise Sincerely. Start with those two simple words: “I’m sorry,” or “I apologise.” This is essential because these words express your remorse over your actions. Include what you’re apologising for, e.g. “I’m sorry that I was abrupt with you earlier this morning. I feel bad for the way I spoke to you.” How will you know if it is sincere? Take a moment to close your eyes and notice your own feelings. Do you feel in your heart sadness, concern or regret for what has occurred. You may share this with the other person. Sharing from your heart creates a bridge for connection.
- Keep it Clean and Simple. Keeping your apology clean and simple means you’re not going to add your own justifications or defences to the action surrounding the apology. This will dilute the sincerity of the apology and detracts from the impact of the hurt felt by the other person. It can come across as an avoidance to taking responsibility. When we take ownership for an issue we instil trust and this is part of restoring the goodwill in a relationship.
- Make Amends – Is there anything else that needs to happen to create repair? Is there something that you need to be mindful of in your behaviour in the future? If you aren’t sure you might ask: “What can I do to make things better?” Make sure you let the other person know of your commitment to bring greater awareness around your actions and changing your behaviour. This an important part of repair and rebuilding trust. To follow on from the earlier example you might say: “I commit to managing my stress better so that I’m not abrupt in my communication with you.”
- Allow there to be a ‘Full Stop’ after the Apology. There is always that feelings of discomfort and embarrassment over a hurt. This doesn’t immediately go away once we’ve apologised. It can be tempting to keep talking and risk sliding into your own justifications or explanations. This can take the focus off how your actions or words has affected the other person. Just stop and allow there to be silence after an apology. This gives the other person space and time to consider your apology before they respond.Tend to your own feelings of discomfort and catch your inclination to fill the silence with words.
- Be aware that you’re Apology may need Digesting: When there has been a hurt or offence, apologising doesn’t necessarily make the hurt go away immediately. Give the other person time to heal, and don’t rush them through the process. How our apology is received is somewhat out of our control. We need to be able to let go and give the other person space to consider our apology and digest what’s been said.
If you’re needing help around an apology or a specific hurt that you want to repair contact me now for a free .20minute consultation.