How to Apologize Effectively: The Anatomy of a Good Apology
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How to Apologize Effectively: The Anatomy of a Good Apology

How to make an apology.

I believe everyone has made and received apologies in their life. There is no doubt that the ability to apologize and accept an apology is incredibly important to healthy relationships and continued trust.

I have been thinking about the little A-Word a lot lately. A proper apology has a beginning, a middle and an end. You state what you are apologizing for, explain it, make some sort of restitution (even if it's "I will try to be more aware in the future"), and hopefully you gain forgiveness. As anyone who has every apologized knows, some apologies are simple, and the really serious ones are much more complex. The later requires a certain element of the Humbling Gene.

These are the "stock" steps to apologizing. If you Google apology or "how to make an apology" on the internet, they will bullet point the above steps and write a little something-something about how to do it or what the steps mean. My quickie rendition might sound canned, and maybe a bit over-simplified. In a way it is.

However, in this 'anatomy' of apology, something is missing. There is much more to the most important apologies. Why are apologies so difficult to make and why are they so important?

I think that for some people, admitting to what they have done can be daunting. You know they have done something and they know they have. You both know it has caused hurt and pain, be it intentional or unintentional. I think some people have a hard time accepting they hurt someone they care about because it means that they have to take off their angry/indignant/entitled blinders and face themselves. They have to be able to have empathy and put themselves in someone else's shoes.

Also, at times, the Almighty Pride gets in the way. One of the wisest things my mother taught me at a very young age was this: Sometimes there are things much more important than pride. This is especially true when you deeply care for someone and have hurt them or had a misunderstanding. You can walk away and keep your pride, or you can open a conversation that is honest and save the relationship. Sometimes it means eating Humble Pie.

An apology isn't supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be a little slice of soul baring. It's supposed to make you feel vulnerable. This is especially true of situations where people have done wrong and then lied about it. Lies are things that usually will come back to bite you in the tush in some fashion later, and if you are prone to lying, then you know this instinctually. You start to layer lies to cover your lies. You've gotten away with it enough to feel fairly confident that you can continue not to admit anything of any import.

A Liar's apologies are the most difficult I think. Why? Because by the very nature of lying, you are taking the easy way out of situations. It means not only admitting you did wrong, but also admitting you spun a web of lies around the incident to avoid responsibility. Usually habitual liars won't admit their lies because it makes them out to be... Well... Liars! Couple that with this thought: How much can you really trust the sincerity of a chronic liar? That means they have to work double-time at being truly honest and open and take responsibility in their apology.

Apologies are so important to us and having healthy relationships because we all have a need to feel safe with those we entrust our friendship or heart to. We allow a handful of people into our "inner circle" and they wield a lot of power in our lives. Our inner circle hears our worries, our difficulties, our fears, our hopes and dreams, our deepest emotions and much other information that we don't post out to the world at large. We rely on them for a shoulder to cry on and to give sound advice. Basically, we want to know those closest to us have our backs and our best interest at heart. 

When someone in our inner circle fails to take responsibility and admit wrong time and time again, soon they are ousted because they are deemed "untrustworthy" or "unsafe". By not coming clean, it automatically means that in the future they will continue this behavior. By not admitting what they have done, they show they are unaware and that is the most dangerous of animals. If you are aware of something, you can fix it. If the behavior either comes from feeling entitled or ignorance, then they still don't realize what sort of impact their actions have had on others around them. Either that, or worse, they know and they don't give a rip.

How many people have you cut out of your life because there was no apology, or not a "real" apology with all  the elements of the anatomy of apology listed above. How many situations push you to that point where you have had enough, usually because the person involved isn't willing or able to admit honestly their part in the situation.

What could salvage cutting her or him off? A complete and utter change in their view of what an apology is and why it's so important.

The best advice I can give is if someone is important to you, err on the side of apology and personal responsibility. 

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Comments (4)

Hi Clairsie, "I'm sorry" not only defuses the emotional situation, but also opens the door for personal responsibility, which leaves hope. Thanks for the comment & the vote up! You ROCK!

An apology is worth doing specially for the person you care and want to keep. Saying sorry is also applicable in business if it is necessary and the right thing to do.

SimplyOJ - So very true! It's all about taking personal responsibility and acknowledging that we (or our business) have an impact on the feelings and well being of others.

Apology is indeed the way to go. It is the sure path to a healthy relationship. Without it, we will be living in constant suspicion of one another. No one want to walk or work with someone who does not even know he/she is wrong. Pride is indeed a killer of all level of relationships, even marriage and church relationships.

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