With children, apologies are so simple. Usually a grown up–a parent or teacher, for example–say when it is called for: “say you’re sorry for hurting Johnny’s feelings.” Oh, OK. And then it happens, perhaps begrudgingly or with a pout, and 1-2-6 it’s over. Everyone is back at the sand table playing next to one another until the next infraction.
As an adult it’s much more complex and layered, depending on what you’re apologizing for–stubbing someone’s toes vs. intentionally ripping them a new one vs. unintentionally breaking a promise–and who they are to you–a stranger, a coworker, your child, a spouse or partner, a friend. I also have been accused of the “over apology” in that I say I’m sorry for things I should not claim responsibility for, and I would agree, it’s something I’m working on. But there are also plenty of times when a true apology is in order because I need to right a wrong–but I have also found it involves having a number of things in alignment:
1. Clarity & Awareness: An awareness and understanding of what I’m apologizing for–and clear communication of this to the injured party. This is why a blanket apology often falls on deaf ears, a recipient wants to know they’ve been understood…actually most people in general want to know they’ve been understood.
2. Listen & Receive: Sometimes when an apology has been crafted and every word had been agonized over, it’s easy to forget that this is a dialogue, not a monologue, and listening is key–it’s not just about waiting for our turn talk. Our recipient may also have a response, may have their own feelings and may have their own thoughts. It’s important to hear them.
3. Learn: In short, don’t do it again.
4. Forget Expectations: Forgiveness may not come, and that’s ok. Apologizing with the sole purpose of getting redemption misses the point. The best experiences I’ve had happened when I’ve taken right actions and then let go of the results…
5. Forgive & Accept: An apology is not the time to air gripes. Ideally, at this point there is an understanding about what my part is and I’ve made peace with that…if not, perhaps it’s not time for an apology yet.
The best thing about a honestly felt apology is that it is a gift not only for the recipient, but for the giver as well regardless of the ultimate outcome.
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