HOW to Apologize
beginning with how NOT to
© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Intentionality Series
Just because we didn’t do something intentionally (“on purpose”), doesn’t mean the injured party is not entitled to a sincere apology for the reality that we were involved and that something was damaged – or somebody was hurt – as a result.
Apologizing doesn’t mean that you have been purposely wrong and that the other person is absolutely right. It means that you value your relationship more than your ego.
Far more often than many of the neurotypical members of society, those of us with what I refer to as Alphabet Disorders (AD[h]D, EFD, TBI, OCD and more) tend to say and do things that get us into hot water with our friends and loved ones.
- Unfortunately, according to a great many of my clients through the years, instead of cleaning it up and asking for forgiveness, we tend to allow hurt and resentment to fester as a result of our reluctance to apologize.
- Even more often, we make things even worse by our bungling attempts at taking responsibility for our actions when we do attempt to say we’re sorry – making it even more difficult for us to decide to apologize in the future.
While we might argue that the above points are two sides of the same coin, shame (certainly a factor), I have observed that only a few of us truly understand HOW to apologize – so we tend not to offer them as often as they are deserved.
That’s unfortunate, because apologizing costs us nothing, means a great deal to those we have disappointed or offended, and is a relatively easy thing to learn to do in an effective manner.
8 Reasons we don’t apologize more readily & more often
There are probably as many explanations as there are people who “refuse” to apologize, but they tend to cluster in areas similar to one or more of those below.
- We have collapsed blame, fault, and intentionality with apology. They are NOT the same, and the presence of the former is completely unrelated to the need for an apology.
- Our egos are attached to appearing “perfect” or loving or emotionally sensitive in some black and white manner, fearing that apologizing makes us seem weak, ineffective or damaged in some fashion beyond that which we already fear that we might be. The opposite is actually true.
- We aren’t fully appreciating the feelings of the individual at the effect of our actions, words or behavior, frequently because we ourselves would not respond in a similar manner. We let ourselves off the hook with the lame excuse that they are “over-reacting” — contexting our actions their fault.
- We feel as if we’re “always apologizing” – most often because we’ve been told that so many times throughout our lives we’ve concluded that yet another won’t really make much of a difference anyway. How can we expect to rebuild trust if we won’t take responsibility for our actions when they are hurtful?
- We don’t know how to “fix it,” and we are hoping that saying nothing will allow it to become no more important than a bit of dirt under a carpet. By the time our attention is drawn to the huge dirty pile in the corner, it seems as if it really could be too late to repair the damage.
- They are younger than we are, or less senior, so we allow ourselves the excuse that an apology from us would be “inappropriate.” Even very young children and junior office assistants are entitled to an apology whenever our actions would merit an apology to someone older or more senior – especially if we didn’t intend harm.
- It takes us a while to realize that an apology is probably due – or to work up the courage to offer one – and we don’t know how to begin at a later date. It’s never to late to attempt to set things right.
- We lack the skill. When we believe we are apologizing, the person on the receiving end hears something entirely different: an attempt to shift the blame.
Whatever underlies our reticence or lack of effectiveness, we can learn to apologize effectively, and our happiness with our relationships will improve significantly once we do.
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