I happen to think that a sincere apology is important. Do you agree?
We all apologize numerous times each day. There’s what I call the “oops-sorry” apology, when you accidentally bump into someone’s heels with your shopping cart. Also easily recognizable is the “insincere” apology, which often occurs when you insist that your fighting kids tell each other they’re sorry. I can still hear my nieces sounding just like the ding-dong of a doorbell with their sarcastic “sorry;” neither having eye contact nor sincerity with the other.
As a Mediator (and a human), I deal with relationships. I know from my professional experience that when an apology is delivered with sincerity, it can become a turning point. Last year around the holidays, I began working with a couple divorcing after more than 20 years of marriage. “Mary” was determined to explain to me that she had read a text on “Bill’s” phone that she obviously wasn’t meant to see. I let her vent a bit about Bill’s infidelity, while I looked for a sign of regret or contrition on Bill’s face. When Mary paused, Bill looked directly at Mary and said “I’m very, very sorry about betraying you.” That sentence changed the entire tone of their divorce, and they were able to move forward as co-parents instead of as enemies.
The best apology, in my opinion, is the one which starts with, “I’m sorry for . . .” and then goes into detail. Ideally, that apology ends with a promise that it will never happen again. If the apology is sincere, the person doing the apologizing is clearly taking responsibility for his/her actions and communicating the understanding of why the apology was necessary.
The worst apology, in my opinion, is what I like to call “the passive-aggressive non-apology.” It generally starts with the words, “I’m sorry, but you , . .” The person actually believes this is an apology, and also believes that whatever they were apologizing for wasn’t actually their fault.
Some people just don’t apologize at all. They consider it a display of weakness instead of an appeal for forgiveness. When I encounter the non-apologizers in a mediation, I try to help them say the words without actually saying they’re sorry. This can be a slippery slope, but what sometimes works is when I ask: “If you had it to do all over again, what would you have done differently?” Often, their response can be interpreted as an apology without anyone having actually said “I’m sorry.” And then, ideally, the person listening to what the other would have done differently will be able to let go of the issue and move forward.
Words are powerful, and choosing them appropriately isn’t always easy, especially when delivering the often-difficult apology. The next time you mess up, and we all do, try to give yourself an extra moment to phrase your apology in the best way possible.
If an apology isn’t terribly important to you, please drop a comment to help me understand your point of view.