I'm sorry: how to navigate an apology
If you've ever been confused as to how to navigate an apology with sincerity, you'll want to read on.
In a conversation with my best friend recently, she told me that her ex had served up the biggest non-apology apology ever. Upon inquiry, she said he’d said ‘Sorry you feel that way’. I don’t know about you, but that’s one of the biggest copouts I’ve ever heard.
It got me thinking about apologies in general, and when I asked my colleagues to give me ideas for articles to work on, my friend and colleague Nidhi Tambe piped up with ‘how to navigate an apology’. I realised that saying ‘I’m sorry’ is fraught (for a lot of people) with difficulty and uncertainty; I apologise profusely when I’m in the wrong (and often at the drop of a hat, but that’s a whole other article), but I can understand that navigating an apology isn’t the easiest of things. So how does one apologise with sincerity and thoughtfulness?
Take ownership of your actions
This may seem pretty straightforward, but the truth is that a lot of people don’t really understand or acknowledge the pain that they have caused to someone else. Case in point: my opening paragraph. When my bestie’s ex ‘apologised’ to her, he said he was sorry that she felt a certain way. That’s not an apology. A better way for him to have apologised to her would have been for him to say something along the lines of ‘I know I did <thing> and I know it hurt you. I’m sorry for causing you pain.’ Then once the apology is out of the way, make sure the hurtful words and deeds never happen again.
Approach your apology with sincerity
Again, this may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed at the number of people who struggle with being sincere in the things that they say. Many people approach apologies flippantly or think that they can just lead with ‘I’m sorry’ and that it will magically improve things and make things better. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t. In fact, I would go so far as to say that an insincere apology or a flippant apology makes things worse. Leave the jokes aside and apologise from the bottom of your heart.
Put the ego aside
You need to set your ego aside when you’re apologising to someone. I don’t care what the fight or the argument was about – if it’s reached a point where someone is apologising to someone else, then obviously harm has been caused. It’s not about winning or losing any more – it’s about delivering a sincere apology. You can only do that when you stop focusing on how badly your ego’s taken a hit.
Ask to be forgiven
When you apologise, you need to specifically ask for forgiveness. This is a way to allow the other person to think about whether or not to accept your apology and forgive you. You also place the ball squarely in their court when you do. You have to give them time to come around. If they decide not to accept your apology and if you remain unforgiven, you would have at least given it your best shot.
Be careful where you place the blame
It is all too easy to place the blame on someone else instead of taking a good long look at your own actions. Sometimes people deflect blame when they apologise. For example, if someone were to say to you, as a part of their apology, that they would never have done x if you hadn’t done y, that is deflecting the blame and refusing to take responsibility for their own actions. Nobody can MAKE you do something, even if they’re being really aggravating. Own up to your mistakes when you apologise.
How are you going to ensure that you never repeat your behaviour in the future? You need to reassure the person you’re apologising to that you’ll never upset them in the same way again. You may need to offer them a game plan that you need to promise you’ll stick to. This is particularly important if you’re a repeat offender already. Think about what you’re going to do to improve yourself, and do it.
Be aware that sometimes one apology is not enough. Be prepared to apologise multiple times and with genuine remorse each time. Ask for forgiveness repeatedly, especially if the error is serious. Life does not magically return to normal just because you apologised. People need time and space to process apologies, and sometimes you may need to say you’re sorry more than once.
So there you have it; how to navigate an apology. If you’ve said sorry sincerely multiple times and asked for forgiveness without deflecting the blame, the sad truth is that sometimes you may remain unforgiven. That’s okay too. You can’t win them all, and as much as it will hurt to move on without someone else, sometimes that’s just what you have to do. Make sure you let them know that the door’s always open, and allow them a way back in if that’s what they want down the line, and let them go. Sometimes, unfortunately, words just aren’t enough.