Within one week, I received two very different apologies. The first felt like an act of violence.
The second, an act of love. Both had surprising results. Here is the backstory.
The First Apology
A sometimes friend accused me of being unethical. I told her that what she said was hurtful and untrue, and that it was as if she never really knew me. She replied, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” taking no responsibility whatsoever for the negative impact her words had on me. There was nothing in her tone or her words that made me feel as if she were truly sorry for what she said.
And that was that. Smack! Bam! Ouch! The door on this tenuous friendship had slammed shut and I knew it. Ultimately, this closure was liberating. This friendship needed to have ended years ago.
“A sorry apology can add insult to injury.”
FRANK SONNENBERG, Author
Soul Food: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life
The Second Apology
I had a fast turn-around time with a client, who is also a close friend. She needed a lot of work accomplished by me in one week. But she was not following through on the things I needed her to do before I could finish the work, and she was not communicating. As the week wore on, I was feeling increasingly undervalued and wished I had never taken on the project. I called her again to see if she had any of the tasks completed. She had not. I asked her why she hadn’t done what she needed to do. Instead of making excuses, she replied, “You’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty to help me. I have disrespected and devalued you and your time. There is no excuse for my behavior. Please forgive me. From now on, I will do what’s needed.”
At that moment, I felt so good. Also at that moment, I realized that I had never received a genuine apology before, an apology without excuses or subtly shifting the blame to me. The apology I received from my client also made me wonder how many genuine apologies I had given in my lifetime. Not many. I want to do better. The rest of our work together was joyful. She did what she needed to do when she needed to do it. Our friendship deepened. My trust grew. Our project turned out to be a huge success. Yes, conflict can be an “unexpected gift,” indeed!
More On Crafting an Effective Apology from Conflict - The Unexpected Gift, by Jack Hamilton and Elisabeth Seaman
Simply saying, “I’m sorry,” is not going to cut it. An insincere apology can make you come off as condescending and hinder any progress in resolving your troubles. But how do you offer a truly meaningful apology that doesn’t sound as if you’re just going through the paces and trying to achieve a quick fix? Without the skill to properly express to the other person that you’re sorry, you can turn something that began as a minor offense into a major blow to your relationship. Fortunately, you can learn how to apologize in a way that is meaningful and constructive.
Aaron Lazare, M.D., a psychiatrist and former dean of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has written On Apology, an entire book about apologies. . . . Lazare found that the apologies most likely to be accepted by the other person should contain some key elements if they are to be effective:
● an acknowledgment of the offensive behavior
● an explanation of the offensive behavior
● a genuine expression of remorse
● an offer to make amends
Including these factors can help you craft an apology that will go a long way toward bringing you and the party you offended together. Following up in a sincere, positive way means that you need to include these elements:
Acknowledge the unfounded assumptions you made about another person by following these guidelines:
● When you have offended another person, acknowledge what you did.
● Take responsibility for the effects that your attitudes, beliefs and actions had on the
● Say why you acted the way you did. Be truthful.
● Apologize for making those incorrect assumptions. In the best apologies, you will
abide by these principles:
(1) Express regrets for what you did that was hurtful to the other person.
(2) Be honest and sincere in expressing a truly genuine apology to the
person you offended.
(3) Make a sincere effort to right any wrongs you have committed. Do whatever you can
to help the other person recover emotionally from what you said or did.
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