In trying to restore a friendship by apologizing, I think I made the situation even worse by making too big of a deal about my mistake. No matter how hard I tried to explain the situation from my point of view, I didn’t come away with the feeling that my saying, “I’m sorry,” was enough to mend fences. How do you convince someone that you are really sorry?
–Irene, Portland, OR
Apologizing is rocky whether you try too hard or not hard enough; merely saying “I’m sorry” is not always enough to say toward restoring a friendship.
The apology should have been about the other person who was offended by what you said or did or neglected to say or didn’t do, than about you, Irene. According to psychologist Harriet Lerner, in her new book, WHY WON’T YOU APOLOGIZE?, when there is an attempt to rationalize the reason for the apology, the lasting affect is “never satisfying.”
- The most authentic apologies are short.
- Don’t include an explanation in your apology, because it undoes the apology.
- Never ask for forgiveness, the offended may accept the apology but probably won’t forget the wrongdoing.
Focus should be on what the offender has done or said, not on the offended’s reaction to the apology.
- Never say, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” because it moves the focus away from the person apologizing by yo-yo-ing “I’m sorry” into “I’m not really feeling all that sorry.”
Dr. Lerner writes, “humans are hard-wired for defensiveness. It’s very difficult to take direct, unequivocal responsibility for our hurtful actions. It takes a great deal of maturity to put a relationship or another person before our need to be right.”
It may be that the offended person is the one who needs to talk (to you or a professional) about why they are so hurt by the offense. In order for the offended to understand their history behind the hurt feelings exacerbated by the transgression, they may need to do some soul searching. In that situation, Dr. Lerner says, “non defensive listening (to the offended party) is at the heart of offering a sincere apology.”
- Listen to the offended person and don’t “interrupt, argue, refute, or correct facts, or bring up your own criticisms and complaints,” says Dr. Lerner.
- Apologize for the offense, no matter how small your part may have been.
Assuming your share of the responsibility by making a simple apology for the offense is the healthy, mature and healing way to repair a relationship.
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