Apology 101

Just about drove off the highway.  I ask the girl child what she learned at school today and instead of the typical “nothing” and an eye roll, she actually had an answer: “How to apologize.” “What class is this?” I ask, and my daughter tells me that her middle school hit the pause button on the traditional curriculum for a day to focus on skills and ideas that the kids will use for a lifetime.

A one-hour lesson on how to make amends resonated with my daughter and she co-writes this blog with me.  First thing to consider, she says, is to accept that the circumstances leading up to the need for an apology are just a part of life.  When someone calls you out, it’s natural to get defensive, but don’t.  No one wants to be painted as the “bad guy”.  Try to listen without interrupting.  Set your ego aside.

Another consideration is to understand the concept of intent versus impact.  Let’s say that you stepped on your friend’s toe and broke it.  Don’t say, “Oh, I didn’t mean to,” because of course you wouldn’t intentionally break your friend’s toe.  It doesn’t actually matter that you didn’t mean to cause harm, your friend’s toe is still broken and it still hurts.  Instead of talking about what you intended, talk about what you actually did.

There are good and bad apologies.  One of the worst apologies might be “I’m sorry you were offended.”  When you phrase it this way, you’re putting it on the other person and blaming them for being offended while skirting your own responsibility.  Don’t shift blame to the other person.  Take responsibility.

“But” and “if” are two words to avoid in a mea culpa.  Putting conditions on your apology dilutes the impact.

A good, heartfelt apology has two parts.  First you take responsibility for your actions, and then you commit to changing your behavior.

Changed behavior is what the other person is really looking for.  An acknowledgment of what went down, a clearing of the air, but more importantly, a way forward toward something better.  In the long run, actions absolutely speak louder than words and if you keep making apologies but never follow through on them, then they don’t really mean much.

I discussed this topic with a male friend.  His comment on how one guy apologizes to another: “Sorry, dude.”

Then the other guy might nod and say, “Issalright.”  Swigs beer.  Glances over at the game.  All good.

Think about who you’re apologizing to and how they might need the message to be communicated.  Male to male apology versus female to female versus male to female and the relationship that you have with that person are all things to weigh.  Your best friend since grade school or your lover is probably looking for a different type of “I’m sorry,” than say your boss if you show up late to a meeting.  And as a woman, I will add that women are likely looking for a lengthier discussion and a more detailed apology than the two dudes drinking beer in a bar.

The ability to apologize is a sign of strength, not weakness.  An egoless desire to bring things to a place of peace and equilibrium.  The goal of an apology is to make the other person feel better.  It’s a gift.