Updated: Dec 11, 2018
It’s happened to all of us. That time we’ve opened our mouth and wish we could take the words back.
Or the time we thought we had a good joke, but it hurt someone’s feelings. Or then there’s the time we thought we were helping someone, but we were actually stepping on their toes. As fallible human beings, we’re bound to make mistakes. We don’t typically mean to hurt or offend people, but sadly, it happens. Sometimes those mistakes create situations that are uncomfortable and warrant an apology. But making an apology can be downright painful sometimes! It’s not that we’re coldhearted. More likely there’s a root cause that’s preventing us from apologizing.
Common Reasons We Don’t Apologize
Lauren Bloom, in her book Art of the Apology, highlights some of the root causes that prevent us from making an apology. Pride and embarrassment are two big ones. Anger and shame can cause us to withhold an apology. Then there’s a fear of looking weak or being punished. Maybe we're not quite sure what to say. Or maybe we have the thought, “I haven’t done anything wrong." All these reasons create situations where we’re reluctant, refuse or fail to apologize. We may just find it easier to shrug the situation off, make a joke of it, hope it will go away over time or end the relationship altogether rather than apologize.
The Flip Side: Reasons to Apologize
While our feelings can make us reluctant to apologize, life is far too precious to be burdened by the guilt of our mistakes. There’s freedom and restoration in apologizing. Bloom highlights some reasons we should consider apologizing.
You’re genuinely sorry. The best and most straightforward reason to apologize is because you're genuinely sorry about something you’ve done and want to make it right.
Maintain good relationships. Apologies can do a world of good for all your relationships.
To salvage a relationship. If the person you hurt is important to you personally or professionally, blowing off a deserved apology is a great way to risk losing that person’s trust.
To preserve your own integrity. It takes courage and humility to apologize. But in the end, you’ll find restoration of your personal integrity.
To benefit someone else. Sometimes we need to look beyond ourselves and understand the apology may benefit the other person more than ourselves.
Six Essential Elements of an Effective Apology
Now that we’ve examined the root causes that hold us back from apologizing, and we also see the true benefits of making an apology, let’s look at what makes an effective apology. Every apology is unique because we’re all unique individuals. However, there are certain elements, Bloom points out, we may want to consider that make an apology more effective.
Say you’re sorry, sincerely! This is one element you can’t afford to skip. Anyone can see through an insincere apology.
Take responsibility. Whenever apologizing, it’s important to take responsibility for your role in the conflict.
Make amends. What will let the other person know that you are truly sorry and eager to get back on good standings?
Express appreciation. Whenever you apologize, there’s some risk that the other person may think your apologizing because you feel obligated. Expressing appreciation for the other person lets them know you truly value them.
Listen. Make sure to let the other person have their say when you deliver your apology. This isn’t always pleasant, but it is essential. It’s also fair!
Do better next time. Resolving to do better in the future can help convey how truly sorry you are and that you'll behave better in the future.
Making an apology isn’t easy! We’ve got to put that pride, anger or whatever other reason aside and understand the benefits of apologizing. Think about a couple questions. How much do I value this relationship? Are there long-term consequences of not apologizing? How long do I want to carry the burden and guilt of the situation? When we look at our situations that way, this long-term thinking helps make the decision to apologize just a little easier. Stay tuned for next month when we’ll focus specifically on apologies in the workplace.