You’ve heard it before … a politician stands before a bank of microphones with a forlorn look on his face and begins his apology, “If I have hurt anyone or let anyone down, I sincerely apologize.” This is usually followed by (a) his plan of action to make amends, (b) an expression of “Now it’s time to get back to the people’s work”, or (c) a shift of blame from himself to another. This is NOT an acceptable apology.
In my 51 years of life I have offered countless apologies. Some were sincere; some weren’t. Using my vast experience, allow me to share some tips on how NOT to apologize.
(1) Never begin an apology with “if.” When you begin an apology with “if,” you are letting yourself off the hook and not admitting to your actions or the consequences that came from the action. You may not have intended harm, but if harm was done that harm was real — even if it is only hurt feelings. It’s much better to begin “I know your are hurt because …” or “I know my actions caused …”
(2) Never insert a “but” into your apology. This is another way to attempt to let yourself off the hook and perhaps even attempt to shift the blame to the offended party. “Yes, I know I shouldn’t have said that BUT you made me so angry.” Let’s deal with one issue at a time. Perhaps you are owed an apology, but deal with your apology first and see what happens in the discussion that follows. Again, a simple “I’m sorry for what I did” suffices.
(3) Never use “that you” in your attempt to apologize. “I’m sorry that you feel that way” or “I’m sorry that you misunderstood” or any of the myriad other variations have been uttered in failed apologies. This is basically telling the offended person that it is their problem not yours. It’s apologizing because you have to not because it’s the right thing to do.
(4) Don’t roll your eyes or exhale in exasperation during an apology. Body language is important. Your eye roll or heavy sigh will negate even the sincerest sounding apology. When we do these things it is basically saying, “I’m apologizing to you but only to avoid sleeping on the couch tonight.” Make eye contact and simply apologize.
An apology is offered when we are wrong or when our words, actions, or failure to speak or act have left someone hurt or injured. It does not have to be a grievous injury. It can be hurt feelings or disappointment. If the feelings are real, then the apology needs to be real. Don’t laugh it off. Don’t put it off. Deal with it quickly and with integrity.
What if you don’t feel like apologizing? Deal with it. Be the grown up and apologize. Do the right thing!
What if you were also hurt? That does not negate your obligation to do the right thing. After you apologize, if a reciprocal apology is not forthcoming then wait a bit. Don’t immediately demand, “Now…your turn!” If you do that you may find your apology has lost its weight. It may seem that you apologized just to get an apology in return. If the next day you have not received the apology you feel is due, then sit down calmly and explain how you were hurt. This at least gives the person an opportunity to do the right thing, too.
Confession time — I don’t like to apologize. I don’t like to be in the wrong. I don’t like the be the one who comes with head bowed saying, “I’m sorry.” I don’t know too many people who would put apologizing on the top of their “Things I Like to Do” list. It’s rarely fun but often necessary to repair or salvage a relationship – and relationships are too important to risk.
One more thing about apologies, an apology without a genuine attempt to change the behavior that led to it to begin with will neuter that apology. For “I’m sorry” to mean something, a change of action (or at least an attempted change) is required.
To whom do you need to offer an apology? Why not do that right now?
Note: I wrote this article with Chicago’s “It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry” playing in my earbuds…