How to Apologize and Mean It
It happens to all of us, we screw up and we have to face the music. Its somewhat easier when it is a procedural mistake, something that wasn’t done on purpose, but was only an error in process. Those mistakes are easy to identify, and easy to correct. It is harder, though, when it is something behavioral, something personal, something that we’ve done in either word or action that offends or hurts someone else.
We are not perfect, these things will happen, they have to, its part of the mess. What matters, though, is how you deal with it. The way that you deal with personal failure will reveal your character to those in, and around your life.
When someone calls you on your mistake, here are a few things to keep in mind. This is just the start, though, after apologizing, you have to endeavor to make it right.
- Hear What the Person Is Saying: Don’t just listen, hear. Remember, just because it hurts to hear, doesn’t make it false. Take time in the process to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider the truth of the situation. Give it time to settle in your heart, and refrain from quick responses. In other words, don’t get defensive. A lot of people invoke Paul phrase “don’t let the sun go down on your anger,” but I also think he would caution, “don’t send a rash email or text.” Process the information enough to be able to meet with them without lingering anger.
- Internalize and Empathize: To truly apologize, you will have to come to some sort of understanding of the pain that you have caused. Think about what it would be like if it had happened to you. Also, consider the life circumstances of the person who called you on the issue. The mistake may be compounded by difficult circumstances of the person calling you out. Once you have been able to empathize with them, you are ready to apologize.
- Apologize Face to Face: However you go about setting up the meeting, be sure to emphasize that you don’t want to argue, but want to apologize in person. This will set their mind at ease, and set the stage for a heartfelt apology.
- Be Sincere, Don’t Make Excuses: There is a form of apologizing that isn’t really apologizing. Statements like “I’m sorry you misunderstood the situation,” or “I’m sorry that you didn’t have a full grasp of the issue,” aren’t really apologies. They are actually backhanded insults. What is communicated is, “I’m sorry you are too stupid to understand.” Its not an apology, so don’t do it.
- Don’t Say But: This will derail an apology as fast as anything, “I’m sorry that I acted that way, but…” Again, its not a real apology, and no resolution will come if you include “buts” in your statement. It turns an apology into an excuse.
- Take It and More: The truth about conflict is that when it rains, it pours. When someone gets the courage to call you on something, it probably means that they might add in other things that have been bothering them. Our culture is passive in conflict, so it is likely that there are other things the person has been wanting to say to you, and now that the door is open, they will walk through it. Its important not to hinder the process of apologizing by getting into an arguing match about other “non-issue” things. So take it. It is tough, but ultimately effective.