By Mike Prasse, MACC, LPC
Well, since it has been five months since I last blogged and it's New Years I guess I should try and throw up something and I'll even try to do what I've been trying for a while, write something shorter so people don't fall asleep halfway through! So today I will talk about how to apologize well, since most of us are pretty bad at it. We tend to do a quick 1% apology up front followed by 99% of justifying, explaining, excusing ourselves, and even blaming. We learn to apologize while fighting with our siblings or on the playground and the forced apology we learn at that point often sticks as our only way we know how to apologize.
So most people apologize something like this:
"I'm sorry, but really I would have never yelled like that if you weren't being so darned stubborn. I wish we didn't have to fight like that but if you would just listen to me and hear what I am trying to say I wouldn't have to yell. Pretty much anyone in my situation would have responded the way I did and really it becomes completely involuntary at that point. I come from a long line of yellers and between my red hair and being an only child I don't think you could expect much different. In fact, lets just stop dwelling on stuff from the past, can't we just move on or do you just enjoy holding grudges? So what, I yelled, big whoop, you are a big boy you will get over it, or you can just keep trying to make me out to be the bad guy who always does everything wrong. So I guess I am just the worst wife on the planet because I yelled once, huh? I mean compared to the way you yelled at me last week, or do I need to remind you of my mother's birthday? You've done far worse than just yell and it is just all forgotten when you catch me yelling. So, you knew what you were marrying and you were OK with me then, guess you'll have to be OK with me now. I'm tired, I don't feel like talking any more about this."
A good apology is basically the opposite of that and has three main parts to keep in mind - Accept responsibility, Acknowledge the impact, and Speak to the future. First make sure you take full responsibility for your choice, you could have chosen to act or respond in hundreds of different ways but your choice hurt the other person. It didn't have to be purposeful harm or even conscious, but you did something that caused pain and you can apologize for it. No blaming, no justifying, just accepting that you did something that caused pain or disappointment. Second you make sure and acknowledge that there was hurt or pain rather than minimizing it or comparing it to pain you have felt. They aren't just making a big deal of nothing and if you don't understand what damage was done then ask with a open heart and humility to hear. And then finally speak to the future of how you would like to avoid hurting them in the same way in the future. This isn't a grandiose promise to never hurt them again, which you both know to be a lie, it is taking their pain seriously by trying to find a way to prevent it in the future. "Maybe we can figure out a way to call a time out when we start getting agitated so I don't ever get to the point where I am yelling that way, because I want to make sure when we disagree that I am able to do it in a way that always honors you."
Keep all three parts in mind and you will actually leave the other person feeling cared for rather than even more angry than when you started apologizing.
By Mike Prasse, MACC, LPC - blog can be viewed here.