The Skillful Apology

Last Wednesday, I blogged about the power of an apology. But while we all want a good one, we don’t always succeed in giving it. Even supposedly smart and powerful people have a hard time making good apologies.

A Hollywood actor apologized after he was caught plagiarizing. But his apology turned about to be plagiarized as well.

A Filipino senator was caught grossly plagiarizing his speech. Whether he was knowledgeable of his staff’s actions or otherwise is beside the point. But instead of apologizing, he instead sought a bill to lash back at the people who mocked him for his mistake. A simple, “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again,” would have been enough.

Local politicians have been under fire for corruption, and many of the accused have made statements. What’s aggravating is to hear the grandstanding, professions of wounded pride, and misdirection. Each one protesting their innocence, without actually answering the claims.

Apologizing doesn’t come naturally. I think it’s both a heart issue and a skill issue. Some people give apologies poorly because we don’t know how to do it well. I know exactly how I want to be apologized too, but when it’s my turn to say sorry, my pride, self-righteousness, and desire to prove the other person wrong get in the way.

Thanks! Click the pic for the source.
Thanks! Click the pic for the source.

Some tips that will be helpful to all of us:

1. Do it in person.

Apologize to someone face to face. Over the phone in an emergency can do occasionally. But never through text, private message, or twitter. If you were able to offend someone, you  should be able to find the time to apologize to them in person. Anything less shows you really aren’t sincere.


2.  Don’t pass it to the other person.

Don’t say what the other person did that was also wrong. If they choose to apologize for their side, then great. But you aren’t apologizing to trigger an apology from them. If you only apologize so that the other person will apologize too, then you’re not sorry. You’re manipulative. You should be apologizing to restore the relationship.


3. Don’t hide behind your words.

It’s so easy to phrase apologies in a way that makes us “save face” while seeming sincere. You’ve heard those before:

  • I’m sorry that you misunderstood what I was saying. (So the problem is the other person’s misunderstanding?)
  • I’m sorry that you were offended when I called you a spineless coward. (So it’s the other person’s fault that they were easily offended. But the problem isn’t in what you said?)
  • I’m sorry if anything I did offended you. (Worthless. How can you really be sorry if you don’t know what you did wrong? Instead ask, “What did I do that offended you?” Listen well. Then apologize for that.)

Or phrasing it like it’s accidental and unintentional when it clearly wasn’t:

  • Tagalog: Sorry na nasabi ko yon… (Instead say, “Sorry na sinabi ko yon.” If it wasn’t an accident, stop pretending that it was. Also applies for “nagawa ko,” “nasampal kita,” “natulak kita sa bangin,” etc) 
  • I’m sorry that I happened to be somewhat late. (Is somewhat late better than normal late? Are you taking responsibility for your lateness or making an excuse?)

The funny thing is, for all the verbal gymnastics, people still feel unsatisfied with the apology, because we all know a prideful heart when we see one. (Except when it’s in ourselves.) It would have been better not to apologize at all instead of giving this pathetic excuse for one.


4. Be specific.

There’s a song that goes

Whatever I did, whatever I said,
I didn’t mean it,
I just want you back for good
(want you back, want you back)

Every time I hear it, I wonder, “How do you know you didn’t mean IT, when you don’t even know what IT is?”

If we really want an apology to stick, be specific. I’m sorry for what I said to you last night over dinner. I was angry and unkind. There’s no excuse for my behavior.

5. Be ready to make amends.

Does the person need assurance that this won’t happen again? Does the person need you to make restitution – pay them back for something you broke or stole? Did you spread a rumor about someone? Then be prepared to talk to the other people and correct it.

No relationship is perfect. But an apology coupled with forgiveness will make any relationship good as new. Like I wrote earlier, these are skills. But usually the problem isn’t just with the skills but our heart. Next week, Monday, we’ll look at the heart of an apology.

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