How many times have we had a disagreement with someone and they either refused to apologize, or the kind of apology they gave made the situation even worse?
It’s a perfect example of how important it is to always be thoughtful and conscious of the way we communicate, especially in situations where we, or the other party, ends up getting hurt or upset.
An apology is an expression of remorse or regret, an admission that we’ve done something that’s hurt someone, regardless of whether it was intentional or not. I got curious and looked up words that were considered synonyms for apology, and it was really interesting to me how many of the ones that came up could be taken in such completely different contexts and meaning.
For instance, the words concession, excuse, justification, confession and atonement were all variations for the term. But, each one of those words, for me at least, brings up a very different emotional context.
Concession means a person is giving up something they initially wanted in an interaction. An excuse or justification would appear to describe a person trying to skirt true accountability by saying they really had no choice but to act that way. Atonement and confession would seem to fall more in line with the intention of an apology where a person accepts responsibility for their actions.
But, have you ever given serious thought as to what the purpose behind a true and honest apology and what’s the ultimate result they want from giving one?
I’m sure it varies according to person and situation, but it also has a lot to do with one of my favorite words: Intention.
Intention is a key component when approaching an apology.
How do YOU feel when you know a person isn’t being genuine about an apology? When you know they’ve been forced, unwillingly, to provide an apology that they feel is either unwarranted or unnecessary?
It doesn’t feel good, does it? It tends to make the original transgression or argument worse because there’s no sincerity or effort to start a path toward healing.
So, is there an art or formula to giving a healthy apology? I believe there is! When an apology is given with respect and sincerity, it can be a beautiful gift, if the person receiving it, is open to its magic.
It can wipe away the toxicity of anger, resentment, guilt and any other negative emotions that might be simmering on life’s backburner. It can help to re-balance life’s playing field, start a new dialog or bring new awareness to other perspectives.
Regardless of how sincerely or well delivered an apology is, however, the level of infraction a person is apologizing for has a lot to do with how quickly and beneficially the rift can be healed.
Someone who has suffered from years of physical abuse, for instance, probably won’t have the same potential for immediate healing than a person who is receiving an apology for a simple disagreement with a co-worker.
But, regardless of the original reason for the apology, ANY potential for healing will also depend on the WAY you apologize.
Let me give you an example.
Let’s say you had a tiff with a family member who said some hurtful things to you and you’ve been upset about it for days. You get a call from them and you let them know that you’re still upset about what transpired.
They offer an apology.
I’ll give you two versions of this apology, then see which one you think would make you feel better.
The first one is: “I’m sorry if you felt offended by our conversation. I was just sharing my opinion. I don’t really understand why you’re so upset!”.
Here’s the second option: “I’m so sorry that what I said hurt you! I truly apologize! I certainly didn’t want to upset you. Let’s find some common ground on this!”
Now, which one of those apologies would you feel better about receiving?
Notice the difference between the two?
One is clearly much more consolatory and sincere about feeling badly that they hurt the person’s feelings. It’s clear that, regardless of the issue being disputed, there’s concern for the other person’s well-being.
But, the biggest difference is that the first apology didn’t include any responsibility for their own active part in the disagreement. It almost had a mocking tone to it that inferred the other person was being overemotional and had no actual cause to be upset.
It’s the type of apology a person says when they feel forced to say something so they can just move on, but without any true interest in changing the way they communicate or the other person’s feelings.
If you were the person being apologized to, which one would you rather hear?
Most people would probably prefer the second apology version because they feel they’re being respected and listened to. Communication is much more effective when both parties feel they can share their opinions, ideas or thoughts without being made fun of, put down or ignored.
Sometimes that can be hard to remember, though, in the heat of an argument where both parties feel strongly about the facts behind their position. We’ve seen a lot of divisiveness in 2020 which has worked to erode relationships within our families, businesses and community.
If we step back and take a hard look at the way we deliver our messaging in every communication, not just apologies, we might find we are missing more opportunities to come together than we expect.
If you’ve been experiencing conflict in your life at home, work or among friends, maybe it’s time to develop a new perspective in the ways you communicate. Taking responsibility for how you interact with others is a great first step in finding that common ground, a better resolution to an argument or just being able to have a simple conversation about everyday topics without rancor.
I see signs everywhere saying ‘Make America Great Again’. But, I don’t think any politician can personally make that happen for us. It needs to come from the ground up, right here within our own households, businesses and community.
So, the next time you find yourself in an argument or heated debate, be the first to pay attention to your communication approach. There’s no greater place to start than each of us actively and consciously communicating with compassion, tolerance and patience, because these are the very attributes we so desperately need to turn to in these turbulent times, so we can move forward in a new and healthier direction.
Until next time, stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong!
If you’d like some help with creating better communication skills and think life coaching might help, I encourage you to take advantage of one of my free 20-minute introductory phone coaching consults or schedule a full regular session online.
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