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Journal of Psycholinguistic Research by Steven Scher and John Darley.
How to Apologize Appropriately
#1 Express remorse:Every apology needs to start with two magic words; “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.”This is essential, because these words express remorse over your actions.For example, you could say “I’m sorry that I snapped at you yesterday.I feel embarrassed and ashamed by the way I acted.”Your words need to be sincere and authentic.Be honest with yourself, and with the other person, about why you want to apologize.Never make an apology when you have ulterior motives, or if you see it as a means to an end.Timeliness is also important here.Apologize as soon as you realize that you’ve wronged someone else.
#2 Admit responsibility:Next, admit responsibility for your actions or behavior, and acknowledge what you did.Here, you need to empathize with the person you wronged, and demonstrate that you understand how you made her feel.Don’t make assumptions--instead simply try to put yourself in that person’s shoes and imagine how she felt.For example, “I know that I hurt your feelings yesterday when I snapped at you.I’m sure this embarrassed you, especially since everyone else on the team was there.I was wrong to treat you like that.”
#3 Make amends:When you make amends, you take action to make the situation right.Here are two examples:*”If there’s anything I can do to make this up to you, please just ask.”*”I realize I was wrong to doubt your ability to chair our staff meeting.I’d like you to lead the team throughtomorrow’s meeting to demonstrate your skills.”Think carefully about this step.Token gestures or empty promises will do more harm than good.Because you feel guilty, you might also be tempted to give more than what’s appropriate--so be proportionate in what you offer.
#4 Promise that it won’t happen again:Your last step is to explain that you won’t repeat the action or behavior.This step is important because you reassure the other person that you’re going to change your behavior.This helps you rebuild trust and repair the relationship.You could say; “From now on I’m going to manage my stress better, so that I don’t snap at you and the rest of the team.And, I want you to call me out if I do this again.”Make sure that you honor this commitment in the days or weeks to come--if you promise to change your behavior, but don’t follow through, others will question your reputation and your trustworthiness.
Further Strategies for Effective Apologies
Don’t offer excuses:During an apology, many people are tempted to explain their actions.This can be helpful, but explanations can often serve as excuses, and these can weaken your apology.Don’t shift part of the blame onto someone or something else in an attempt to reduce responsibility.Here is an example of using excuses in an apology:“I’m sorry that I snapped at you when you came into my office yesterday.I had a lot on my plate, and my boss demanded my project report an hour earlier than planned.”In this case, you excuse your behavior because of stress, and you imply that the other person was at fault because he bothered you on a busy day.This makes you look weak.A better approach is to say “I’m sorry I snapped at you yesterday.”This is short and heartfelt, and it offers no excuses for your behavior.
Don’t expect instant forgiveness:Keep in mind that the other person might not be ready to forgive you for what happened.Give that person time to heal, and don’t rush her through the process.For example, after you make your apology, you could say, “I know that you might not be ready to forgive me, and I understand how that feels.I simply wanted to say how sorry I am.I’ll give you plenty of time to see that I’m changing my behavior.”
Lately, in our face to face meeting, the subject of apologies has come up.It has been interesting to listen to the numerous observations and has led to some great insight and discussions.
The first year of my sobriety it occurred to me that I was apologizing for EVERYTHING.If a book flew off of the bookcase all by itself and hit the ground, my first impulse was to say that I was sorry.So many times I uttered apologies, sometimes without even knowing what I was sorry for!Looking back, I believe I felt so guilty for my drinking behavior that I felt the need to apologize for everything.I was over-compensating and taking ownership when in fact, often times, it did not belong to me.With the clarity that sobriety brings, I soon discovered this behavior pattern and set out to change it.I began to put action into Statement #13.I began to make real, authentic apologies.
One of the things I have learned in my New Life is to take the “but” out of saying I’m sorry.In the past, I often said that I was sorry and then added a BUT.... “I’m sorry I missed you BUT I was running behind.”Or “I apologize, BUT you know how it is.”This is similar to adding an excuse to the apology.I give out the sorry and then take it back with the BUT or an excuse.
Today, responsibility feels good.I am able to show the world that I can be trusted and that I am open to growing and responding with my abilities.I feel connected to others because I acknowledge their feelings of hurt and I am better able to identify and state my own feelings today.Life is good!Hugzzz, Karen
Are you better able to give and receive apologies in your New Life?
Hi 4C Women, I agree that an apology needs to be authentic; and, so, promising it will never happen again is a big responsibility and one that has to be heartfelt and serious.As women with addictions, promises may have been broken many times and all it takes is one more broken promise for others to see us as unreliable and untrustworthy.WFS teaches us to make those “inside” changes because, let’s face it, you don’t need an addiction to be someone who apologizes without meaning it or without any consideration to actually changing that behavior.
We are fortunate in a way that because of our addictions and our willingness to seek help, we have a program that gives direction, insight and hope.I have always said that the group experience, whether in a face to face meeting or online with the WFS forum, offers much needed support, encouragement and opportunities for real, authentic change.With that, we won’t be apologizing for everything, giving false promises, making excuses or expecting instant forgiveness.We will be women who express ourselves authentically and follow through on any promise we have made.We will be trustworthy and, most of all, willing to do the hard work to create positive change.We take responsibility for our words, our actions and our lives.That is a 4C woman!–Dee
Thank you, Karen and Dee, for your words of encouragement and inspiration. I have had a teachable moment last week and put into practice what I learned from this message; and have been blessed with forgiveness. I am humbled and grateful. ~Becky Fenner, WFS Director