Saturday, July 13, 2013

Formula for a Successful Apology

You've done it.  You've totally screwed up and now you need to apologize, and the words are tumbling around in your head as you try to construct the appropriate apology.  Fear not!  As one who has screwed up countless times, I have far too much practice in apologies, and can offer you advice based on my vast experience.

You are soooo busted.

A proper apology contains three elements.  It is important to include all three, and a very good idea not to go beyond them -regret, confession, repentance.  Here is the framework for an appropriate apology:

"I'm sorry I did that.  I screwed up.  I won't do it again."

If in doubt you can use that exactly as written in almost any situation.  Memorize it.  Use it.

Let's examine the three components:

"I'm sorry" -This is the entry level apology, and we teach our children to say it, while scuffing their foot around to let us know that they really don't mean it.  People want to hear our regret, at a minimum, but this is really not enough.  Are you sorry you did it, or just sorry you got caught?  Are you sorry I'm so difficult to please?  At it's best, "I'm sorry" should also specify the offense - "I'm sorry I forgot your birthday."  Failure to specify leads to confusion and an apology must be crystal clear.

Or, it can mean that your ego is so huge you can't admit fault.

"I screwed up." -Admit it's your fault.  So often people follow "I'm sorry" with an excuse for why it was really OK, or not really their fault.  "I'm sorry I hit you, but your words were making me angry."  That is not an apology, it is blame-shifting.  Admit your own fault without blaming anyone else.  "I'm sorry we had that fight.  I have to listen better."  Failure to accept blame turns the apology into a cloaked accusation.

"I won't do it again." -Show your maturity.  If the action was worthy of an apology, it should not be repeated.  This step is necessary to heal the relationship.  The other person needs to know that s/he should not expect this behavior again.  "I won't go out without telling you any more."  Failure to repent leaves guards up and prevents a complete healing of the wound.

What men really mean by "I won't do it again."

You may be tempted to add to these elements.  Don't.  An apology should be short, sincere, complete, and simple.  Turning it into a story is likely to make things worse.  It will become filled with excuses, blame shifting, and denial.

"I'm sorry I did that.  I screwed up.  I won't do it again."  You can apply this formula to many situations:

"I'm sorry I didn't clean up the dirty dishes.  I should have been more considerate.  I won't forget them again."

"I apologize for eating your lunch from the office refrigerator.  I should have ordered delivery.  I won't eat your food again."

"I'm sorry for posting that embarrassing picture of you on Facebook.  I should have respected your privacy.  I won't post anything else without your permission."

A real pro at work here.

Now, go forth and apologize well.

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