Have People Forgotten How to Apologize?

I’ve been married for 13 years. I have two kids under the age of 9 and I work in a creative field. I’ve had my fair share of being hurt and offending others. I’ve had to “man-up and apologize” many times. I do so not to lose face but rather keep a relationship. We all make mistakes. I make quite a few, and because of that, I really think about my apologies. I hope that people see the humanity in my words, “I’m sorry.”

But this week I really started to wonder if people still know how to apologize?

With email, cell phones, and social networking sites, we are more contact than ever. We connect with more people in a day than ever before. The odds are in our favor that we’re going to piss someone off whether we mean to or not.

So let’s say you say something stupid. Let’s even say, you do while drunk – I do this a lot. So now someone hears what you said and is offended by it and now you have someone mad at you.

If it was two decades ago you’d have 3 options; a phone call, writing a letter or apologize in person. These efforts involved, not only a cooling off period, but time to reflect on the situation and what needs to be said.

Now in a world with Twitter, Facebook and texting where we are being trained to say things in as few characters as possible. It doesn’t always work that way with apologies.

Email is a tool that can be used to apologize but again we’re being taught that email is a fast communication tool. Do we still think about what we are emailing before we hit send? The email apologies I get, feel as if they are on a action item list:

  • Renew library books
  • Google a new dry cleaner
  • follow up on information request
  • apologize to Kate

Do we really think about an apology before we make it? Do we think about the goals going forward that we want to accomplish?

Look, I’ll be selflessly honest here. If I do something wrong and someone wants to me to explain myself or apologize I will analyze the relationship. Is the relationship I want to keep? Are they a hazard to my life, would it be better to burn the bridge. Most times the answer is no. I value relationships. I need people in my life. I don’t like people mad at me it makes me feel like I’m worthless and a failure, so I’ll be the first to apologize. Because at the end of the day, I don’t mean to hurt anyone, it’s not my personality type.

Awhile ago, I think it was in my Oprah viewing days, I heard the saying “Do you want to be right, or do you want to have peace.” My husband hates this quote because it sticks him in a position for him to apologize for something that was out of his control. I like it because I want to have peace. I’ll catch myself being a hippie and wanting everyone to love one another in peace and harmony. I know it’s not always possible but I am who I am. If someone is hurt – regardless of who is to blame I want to offer my condolences and help.

But I’m the frequent receiver of the crappy apology.

Here are some examples from The Art of the Apology: Why Apologizing Is So Difficult, and How to Do it Well

“If I offended you, I’m sorry,” implying that only an overly sensitive person would find issue with what happened—so basically, it’s your fault you’re offended.

“I’m sorry you misunderstood,” and weren’t smart enough to understand what was really meant. Again, it’s really your fault.

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” is often a conversation ender, which implies that you’ve reached an impasse.

The one I hate most is the “I’m sorry but…” Adding the word ‘but’ negates everything that came before it. Granted, I’m a writer and words mean a great deal to me, however my blood boils when I hear “I’m sorry, but…”

People need to know you care about their feeling and perceptions. They need to feel the humanity in the words, “I’m sorry.” That’s can’t be done any more that the words, “I love you.” There needs to be meaning and character behind them to mean anything to the recipient.

So how can we apology with meaning? I’m not a expert, but Lauren Bloom is. She has a book out called, “The Art of the Apology.” In the book and in the You Tube video below, she talks about the 7 elements of an apology.

  1. Be timely
  2. Be sincere
  3. Be specific
  4. Take responsibility for what you’ve done wrong
  5. Make amends
  6. Express appreciation
  7. Do better next time

Now I ask, how can that be accomplished in a quick email between tasks?

To me it comes back to the Golden Rule. “Do onto others as you would have others do onto you.” If you would want a sincere apology when someone wrongs you, then “man-up” and learn the art of the apology for others.

I do warn you this knowledge of knowing what a sincere apologies is will allow you to sniff out the crappy apologies even faster and make you a grump word-hater like me.

The art of the apology by Lauren Bloom 



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