The Art of Apology -- a 4 Step Process
Copyright 2014 by Roberta Gallagher
My Mother’s first apology occurred when I was around 50. I never realized she hadn’t until she did. I started to think back and wondered what it was like as a child to always believe you are wrong.
How could that be?
My Mom also said “Always listen to your mother because she is always right.” The answer is, if you are always right there is never a need for an apology.
As I developed, I always doubted myself. I did not start choosing my own clothes until I was in my mid 20′s.The opposite was also true. I became so rebellious that I would not listen to any advice.
The impact on my relationships with men and my children was destructive. I became totally self centered and could not see the world from their point of view. Every apology contained a rationalization to *defend my right to be wrong*.
I became my mother.
I put great effort to learn how to recognize when an apology was called for. Why was it so difficult for people?
Authentic apologies create a feeling of vulnerability in the giver. It is humbling to admit you did something to cause another person harm. You are letting go of control because you do not know that your apology will be accepted.
A client I was seeing worked for months on the feelings of shame she carried for not treating her brother with the same regard that she treated her friends. He had confronted her a year prior “Don’t you think I notice that you bring your friends gifts from vacations that are more expensive and more thoughtful than the ones you bring me?”
How embarrassing this was! She worked up her courage to approach him “You’re right. I took you for granted. I am so sorry.”
He gave her some acceptance but limited it to the intent to keep an open mind in the future.
Then I asked her what she got out of the experience. This is what I heard: “I got to let go of at least some of my guilt.”
“The relationship is getting better. I learned by becoming conscious of the ways I blinded myself. I saw parts of me I did not like. This process has given me a way to see myself more clearly and hopefully hurt others less. It took real courage to do this and for that I feel pretty damn good about myself.”
Apologies open doors. We have to face our limitations. We learn it is okay to make mistakes and be insensitive as long as we apologize and make a genuine effort to not repeat the same mistake.
Effective Apologies — a 4 Step Process
1. Recognize that what you did was wrong or harmful.
Be specific so the wronged person knows you know what You did. They may disagree. Let their version stand.
2. Responsibility. No excuses or blame.
Explanations water down apologies.
Here simplicity is best. “I apologize” “I’m sorry.” A low tone of voice, good eye contact and body language showing openness makes an apology congruent.
Make an amends by offering an appropriate action. “I will call you if I am going to be late.” This conveys the desire to reconnect.
It helps to look at what you have learned from your mistakes and share that with the people closest to you. Your willingness to remain teachable enriches all relationships and leads to more fulfillment.
John Kador, author of “Effective Apology” wrote, “Apology is the bravest gesture we can make to the unknown…Apologies unmask all the hopes, desires, and uncertainties that make us human because, at the moment of genuine apology, we confront our humanity most fully. At the point of apology we strip off a mask and face our limitations. No wonder we hesitate”.
The injured person receives the opportunity to restore relationship, deescalate conflict, recover dignity, let go and move on. Now there is a possibility for trust to develop.
I have outlined a model for how one can make an apology with greater wisdom and skill. I wish you the courage to begin incorporating this into the lives of all the people you come in contact with.