An effective apology
Itís safe to say weíve all screwed up at some point. Maybe you forgot to go to your best friendís birthday party or selfishly insisted on watching Rock of Love even though your partner was sick and trying to sleep. Iíll plead guilty to one of these things; you guess which one. Iíll also plead guilty to needing to issue an apology every once in a while.
For most of my life, I figured an apology followed the same formula: ďIím sorry I hurt you, and Iíll try to do better.Ē There wasnít much else to it for me. Then came the fateful day last year when I stumbled upon an article about how to give an effective apology. It turns out there are five parts to an effective apology, you guys! I barely got two of those down. Iíd hope some of you are in the same boat, so I donít feel so alone.
It starts with the obvious, clearly stating you are sorry for how you hurt somebody. Thatís followed by an expression of regret for what you did and an acknowledgement of how it was wrong. The fourth part is what threw me. Itís called the empathy statement, where you stop saying ďIĒ and start putting yourself in someone elseís shoes.
We humans have a tendency to obsess over ourselves. Thatís not conducive to a proper apology, because youíre not sharing your side of the story. Youíre owning up to hurting somebody. You donít do that by talking about all the reasons you were late or everything thatís been stressing you out lately. Those are excuses. You should never excuse yourself when apologizing to someone for screwing up.
Not to be too hyperbolic, but it blew my mind when I read about the empathy statement. I immediately knew I needed to start using that in all my interactions with people. When Iíd snap at Gideon after a stressful day, I stopped telling him how stressful my day was. Instead, Iíd say, ďYou must have felt confused and upset when I took my stress out on you, and Iím so sorry for hurting you that way.Ē
It made a world of difference for us. When you show someone empathy, theyíre much more willing to show it back. It creates an openness thatís rare. Some people apologize because they feel they have to, or because they just want to gloss past an issue. Thereís no glossing past the issue when you break an apology into separate parts and clearly show remorse.
The last part of an apology should have been obvious to me, but it wasnít. Itís simple ĖĖ ask for forgiveness. That shows the person youíre apologizing to that they have the upper hand in the situation. They were the one who got hurt, and they decide to accept your apology and move on. Itís about them, not you. If they arenít ready to accept the apology, itís their right to do so. You lose certain privileges when you hurt people you love, so you shouldnít expect to be forgiven right away.
The great thing about an effective apology is it encourages understanding. Itís easier to forgive someone when you feel like they understand where youíre coming from. So donít be afraid to be vulnerable when youíre trying to make amends.
Showing that kind of empathy doesnít only make for an effective apology ĖĖ it makes for a thriving relationship, too!
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Samantha Jones is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. Her email address is Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com