Art of Apology

‘Tis the season for family gatherings, hustle-bustling about, longer lines, pushy, rude crowds, heavy traffic, patience thinning… Ugh!  During stressful times we may lose our cool and say or do something  that we wouldn’t normally.  So we apologize.  We mean well, and hope that our words will do the trick, but sometimes… it doesn’t. Why?  It could be your basic recipe for an apology is missing a key ingredient or two.

Recently I read a book called, Emotional First Aid by Guy Winch, PH.D.  In it, Dr. Winch explains the ingredients of an effective apology.   An insincere apology lacks one or more of the key components needed to communicate an authentic, sincere apology.  Who knew!?

We have all been taught since childhood when to say “I’m sorry” but were we ever taught how?  Hundreds of studies have been dedicated to the if and when an apology happens, not near as much has been done on the how an apology effects a person.  Until only recently.

How? What do you mean how?  You think, admit your error, say you’re sorry and maybe ask for forgiveness.  Done and done.  Right?  Nope.  There are more ingredients to a sincere apology than just these three things.  Here is how I understood Dr. Winch’s approach to communicating an effective apology:

Effective Apology Ingredient No. 1:  A statement of regret and taking full responsibility for the offense.  The first step in an apology is admitting you offended someone and hold yourself accountable for it.   “I feel horrible for ruining your painting.  I wish that wouldn’t have happened!  I was horsing around in your art studio. I came up behind you while you were painting and I wound up bumping your arm, causing you to smear paint across it.”

Effective Apology Ingredient No. 2: An I’m sorry statement.  Making sure to include those three little words can be hard to say but vitally important. “I am so sorry for ruining your painting.”apology

Effective Apology Ingredient No. 3: Validating feelings.  [This step is so often overlooked.] Allow the person you offended to express fully their version of the offense.  While listening, you must remember their version is their version, not yours.  Now is not the time to correct details or defend your actions. Now is the time to listen and understand. Whether or not they are correct, their perception is their reality of what happened.  Now put yourself in their shoes from their perspective.  This will cause you to practice your empathy skills.  Empathy is a key emotion when relating to other people and their experiences.  The reason Ingredient No. 3 is so important is how it effects the sincerity of the apology.  The offended will find it hard to accept your apology, unless they truly believe you get how you made them feel.  Without empathy, they are left feeling your apology is insincere.  “I understand why you are so angry with me.  You spent so much time on this painting – for weeks now – and have worked so hard on the tiniest detail. You were so proud of how it was turning out!  I would be mad too if someone ruined a project I had put as much effort into as you had with your painting. With my reckless behavior I can see how you thought I didn’t care at all about your artwork.”   When our feelings are validated, the upset over an offense is actually lessened, simply because we feel understood.  We feel heard.

Effective Apology Ingredient No. 4: Acknowledging disappointment of expectations.  It is so important we acknowledge to the offended when we have violated personal or social norms. This serves as a reassurance to the offended that we are aware of the set expectation and by acknowledging it, there is reasonable hope that it won’t be repeated in the future.  “I know I shouldn’t have been playing around in your art studio.  That is no place for horseplay.  I should have taken my rough play outside.”

Effective Apology Ingredient No. 5: A request for forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness shows your remorse for what happened and desire to right the relationship. “Please forgive me.”

Effective Apology Ingredient No. 6: Offering atonement. We can say ‘I’m sorry’ and ask for forgiveness all day long, but if we do not offer some way to make a mends – to right our wrong – the apology seems incomplete. Open-ended. Unresolved.  Merely lip-service, so to speak.  Atonement offers closure, showing the offended that you truly are willing to make things right, or at least are willing to try within your physical ability. “I want to make this up to you.  I know I cannot paint like you can, but I want to purchase a new canvas for you, so you can start again.” or “How can I make this up to you?  My horseplay caused quite a mess in your studio. I would like to pick things up and clean your brushes and easel for you.”

Gives you something to think about, doesn’t it.  If you found Dr. Guy Winch’s information interesting, I encourage you to check out his you tube video on his book.

Until next time, remember to take care of you…



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