From the Archives: 7 Ways to Give An Apology & 4 Ways to Accept One




2735748231_07d554ce89 When
I was seven years old, preparing for my First Communion, I had to go to Confession first. Back in the day, that was a scary
prospect, involving a dark booth, hell’s fire and spilling your guts to
a shadow behind a screen. What does a seven-year-old self have to
confess?

I
knew exactly, because I was a convicted thief. I stole a fancy little
brush from Joyce Weber, my friend from down the street. I coveted that
pink and blue plastic brush and I took it! When she discovered my sin,
Mom marched me over to Joyce’s house to hand the brush back and
apologize, face to face. It was agonizing. What more penance could
there possibly be?

As
a dear friend said, "Apologizing sucks." Apologizing is uncomfortable,
at least if you are doing it right, but it is the pain of cleansing a
deep wound so that it can heal properly. Here are a few suggestions on
how to make a good apology:

Seven ways to apologize:

  1. Avoid defensiveness. "I don't have anything to apologize for!" Really? Think about it.
  2. Be humble. You may even consider groveling if your transgression was extreme, like an affair. In that case, expect to grovel for a long time, but not forever.
  3. Make it from the heart. When my son was three years old he banged his little sister on the head with Buzz Lightyear. My mother witnessed his apology. With my coaxing, he mumbled an "I'm sorry," to his sister. “That’s
    not a sincere apology,” my mother said.  “He should mean it!”  Well, he was
    three. “Form first,” I said. “We’ll work on sincerity later.”  By the
    time he was five or so I figured he should be able to understand the
    concept of meaning it. Unfortunately, there are many adults out there who don't.
  4. With candy and flowers.
    Gifts may be used only to open the door or after the apology has been
    accepted, as a thank you. Do not expect treats to substitute for
    sincerity. No, not even a diamond tennis bracelet.
  5. Face to face is best,
    maybe because it's the hardest. A phone call comes in second.  A hand written letter
    might work. Any form of writing needs to be carefully thought out when the
    advantage of voice and body language is absent.
    Email or direct message works for an apology, but only if there is seriously no other way. Be aware that
    privacy cannot be guaranteed.
    Texting an apology?
    You’ve got me there. Maybe for a fourteen year old? I don’t know, it
    may be a generational thing. I wouldn’t recommend it.

  6. Stick to the issue at hand.
    Don’t apologize for all the sins of the past. That can smack of
    insincerity. If all the sins of the past is the issue, one apology
    won’t cover it. You probably need a mediator, like a pastor or a
    therapist.
  7. Say you’re sorry once,
    genuinely said, with all the sincerity you can muster. Then let it go.
    Like a message in a bottle, send it off, be patient and hope it lands
    in receptive hands.

Receiving an apology isn't easy either.

My mother wouldn’t allow me apologize to her. Yes, my mother had a double standard regarding apologies. She was a complicated woman. She was of the ‘love is never having to say you’re sorry’ school, but only when it came to hurting her
feelings, not those of others. Excuse me, but I always thought that was
so much doggy doo doo. If you can’t say you're sorry to those you love,
who can you say it to? What was I missing here? It was crazy making.

As the one usually doing the apologizing, this is what I appreciate from the person I’ve hurt:

  1. Be direct with me.
    Please. There is nothing in this world worse than a cold shoulder, or
    finding out from someone else. “You should know what you did!” is a
    hopeless statement. I know I have a bugaboo about this because that’s
    what my Mom would say. I could never get mad at her for fear of her
    cold shoulder. For that reason I really appreciate directness. Tell me
    you are mad and why. Give me a clue and the opportunity to make amends.
  2. Don't beat me over the head.
    The opposite of being direct could be stewing or nagging endlessly.
    Once you've been direct, and assuming an apology is justified, wait for
    it patiently, it will come. If it never does, that's a kind of answer
    too. What you do next can be informed by that.

  3. Have an open heart. There
    are usually two or more ways to look at a thing. Hopefully, once the
    white heat of anger and hurt burns out a bit you can poke around and
    see if you had any part in the problem. Try seeing it from your
    transgressor’s point of view, or from God’s. Compassion doesn’t replace
    the apology, it does make it easier to hear.
  4. Accept the apology when it’s sincerely given.
    You can tell the difference. If it wasn’t given honestly there was no
    apology, thus nothing to accept. I’m not in favor of flip phrases like,
    “Oh forget it”, “You don’t have to apologize”, “It was nothing.”  It’s
    too easy to go there when everyone is clearly uncomfortable. But you
    both know it really was something. A simple “Thank you,” followed by the offer of a stiff drink, usually works best.

Giving and accepting an apology with grace is just that. It’s
a blessed state for you both. For the one doing the apologizing – because
you chose to allow yourself to be vulnerable rather than get defensive.
For the one who accepts the apology – because you used your power over a
vulnerable soul with generosity of spirit instead of twisting the
knife. Now the healing can begin.

What a relief!

But
what about forgiveness?  For most if us humans, forgiveness is another
matter, involving trust, and that takes time to regenerate after a bad
hurt.

Please tell me what do you think about apologizing and apologies. I would love to hear from you.

Photo courtesy of Xavier Mazellier

2 comments


  • The only thing I would contribute to this is that when you are apologizing you must allow the injured party to say how much you hurt them. Its never easy to hear but if you truly are sorry you can listen at least once to how you caused them pain. Its only fair.

    2010/06/25
  • Yes, Steve, you make a very good point. Too often we quickly defend ourselves instead of just shutting up and listening. An apology that goes, “I’m sorry, BUT…” Is not an apology. It’s an excuse disguised as an apology which only makes things worse.

    2010/06/30

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