Has giving an apology become a lost art? Often I hear about how our society is less civil and it seems that one part of that loss is the ability to apologize well. Linked closely with an ability to apologize is obviously the ability to take personal responsibility or to hold someone accountable. Apology is an important relationship skill whether the relationship is between parent and child, friends (of all ages), teacher and student, employer and employee, or committed partners.
First, why might the ability to apologize be waning? One of the reasons is that people are not holding themselves and others to an appropriate level of accountability. Here’s the reality-humans make mistakes. As my child says, that’s why pencils have erasers. Sure it can be hard to acknowledge to yourself and someone else that you’ve messed up. It’s way easier to rationalize why it was no big deal or didn’t actually cause a problem. Sometimes, when we are really needing to disavow our mistakes, we just deny that something happened at all or spin it as wrong perception. Ok, sometimes the perception is incorrect but both people need to be able to talk about how that came about and an apology still may be called for.
Why does an apology matter?
Failure to take personal responsibility harms yourself just as much as it harms the person you may have wronged. For nearly all of us, there’s a small voice inside that reminds us “You know what you did or said wasn’t cool, wasn’t ok”. Pushing it down will only take you so far and then you will eventually feel out of integrity. That ends up making you feel like you aren’t being as good a person as you could be. In addition, repeated failure to take personal responsibility and apologize will hurt your relationships and sometimes end them entirely.
Who needs to apologize?
So where do we need to be aware of practicing the art of apology? Parents need to be teaching their kids about personal responsibility by modeling it as well as by helping them make their own apologies. Sometimes adults forget to treat their children with the same respect they want from the kids. When adults make a mistake with kids, they need to apologize. That not only shows respect but also shows kids that mistakes happen and that’s ok. It shows that apologies are important and that forgiveness is possible. When kids are engaging in wrong behavior, whether with adults or other kids, it’s important that parents teach them how to apologize well and the reasons why. Not teaching, or expecting, our kids to take responsibility and apologize only sets them up for failure later in life
Adults need to know how to apologize to one another as well as to children. We will goof up at work, sometimes we mess up with strangers in public, and we most certainly will do things with friends and partners that require an apology. One good way to tell if maybe you owe an apology is to ask yourself if you would want one if the situation were exactly reversed. If whatever that thing that was done or said happened TO you, instead of coming from you, what would you want to have happen? Most of the time, there’s your answer on what to do.
How to apologize formally:
Really great apologies will have four components to them:
- Identify what you said or did that was wrong.
- Identify why it was wrong. Steps 1 & 2 typically go together. For example: “I was wrong to exclude you from that game because it made you feel left out.”
- Take responsibility in your apology. Saying “I’m sorry that happened” is NOT an apology. Neither is “I’m sorry you felt……”. “I am sorry I said…….” or “I am sorry I (did)……..” is an apology where you are taking responsibility.
- Identify what you will do different in the future.
Not all apologies need to be formal. Basic apologies can take care of steps 1-3 with a fairly simple sentence. “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings when I left you out”. Adults need to take the lead and our children will follow. Each one of us has a role in helping to return civil, polite and respectful behavior back to being commonplace.
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