Let’s face it. We as humans suck at apologizing—that is, when we actually do apologize
, which probably doesn’t happen as often as it should.
There is a stigma attached to it. It means that you are wrong. And you are never
If you are wrong, then you’re not perfect. And if you’re not perfect, then you have given up some form of power or control. And if you have given up some form of power or control, then your parents probably didn’t love you or something. (I’m not sure why; I just know it always leads back to your parents.)
Well, it’s time to get over yourself. Learn not only to apologize, but also how to apologize the right way. Yes, that’s right. There is a right way and a wrong way to apologize. Chances are, when you do get around to apologizing, it’s the wrong way. Let me guess, it probably goes something like this:
“I’m sorry if I upset you. OK?”
Other variations include replacing, “OK?” with, “There!” or, “Are we done now?”
The preceding is not an apology
That is a request to shut up and change the subject. That type of apology makes matters worse. And yet, we find it acceptable. It is good enough to close the books on the problem, for now. Eventually, you are going to screw up again, at which point your crappy little apology won’t hold water, leaving you with two problems.
The big issue that I have with this type of apology is that you have somehow made the other person wrong even though it was you that screwed up. I’m sorry if I upset you? You are implying that I am too sensitive or fragile to take it. That what you did was fine. That my inability to stand up straight without a spine is the problem.
What you are really saying is, “Hey, I’m perfectly OK with what I did, but since you are being such a wimp about it, I’m going to apologize so you will drop it already and we can move on. Fair enough?”
Gee, thanks. I feel so much better.
What a real apology looks and sounds like
Apologizing is an art. And when it’s done right, it actually means something. A good apology begins the healing process. It wipes the slate clean and allows everyone to move on. Everyone, not just you. But only if it is done right.
An apology that is done right has four parts:
Part 1: “I’m sorry.”
Start by just saying you are sorry. Period. Do not add anything else. No “I’m sorry if…” or, “I’m sorry that…” or, “I’m sorry but…” Just say, “I’m sorry.” This way there is absolutely no confusing the fact that you screwed up, and you are not trying to push the blame or belittle the other person’s feelings. “I’m sorry.” That’s it. Simple enough.
Part 2: “I did not mean to …”
The second part of your apology begins, “I did not mean to”—then insert whatever crappy thing you did or said. This is already implicit in your apology, because the other person clearly knows what you did. Reiterating it ensures that you are both on the same page, that there is no doubt about what you did wrong, and that you are sorry for it.
Part 3: “What can I do to make it better?”
Once you have clearly stated what you did wrong, simply ask: “What can I do to make it better?” This is the most important part. It means that your apology is more than just a simple apology. It’s not just a bunch of words. It means that you want to make it right, that you want not only to move on from the problem, but to fix it.
Part 4: Shut up
The final part of a good apology is to stop talking. Allow the other person to speak. Be OK with the fact that they will probably air their feelings even though you just got done apologizing to them. They need some closure, too. So, listen. When they’re done, don’t defend yourself and reopen the wound. Your only choices are to either say OK or go back to step one and reiterate your apology.
I know. It sounds like a lot of work. It can be. But it’s well worth doing right.
Fortunately, I have not screwed up in several years so I don’t have to—hold on a second, my wife is yelling at me about something. OK. Apparently, I have in fact screwed up. A lot. And it sounds like I owe someone an apology.
So, Aimee, I’m really sorry if I upset you. Better?
Marc Ensign is an entrepreneur, speaker, author, and all around do-gooder. A version of this story first appeared on MarcEnsign.com.