Sheila was backing out of her parking space, at the grocery store and accidentally hit another car.
Bob screamed at his boss, for making him work late on Friday night, date night.
Karla was gossiping, about a colleague, via email and accidentally sent the toxic message to the person, she was insulting.
All three, needed to apologize, but only the driver, Sheila, knew how to handle the awkward situation.
As she jumped to the other driver’s assistance, she said, “Are you all right? I’m sorry, that I hit you. Here is my insurance information.” In one breath, Sheila stated her mistake, expressed her regret, and tried to make amends. And yet, few adults are that graceful – or honest – in the act of apologizing.
In my last post (Are you sorry), I gave some examples of lame apologies, ones guaranteed to make the situation worse, instead of better.
Today let’s focus on apologies that are truly helpful, with help from psychologist Harriet Lerner. In her book, “Why, Won’t you apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts,” she offers pointers:
1. The best apologies are short and sincere. They have a single purpose, which is to open lines of communication. Once, the two of you are talking, there is plenty of time to address underlying issues, if there are any.
2. What to say? State your trespass. Say you’re sorry and that you’ve learned your lesson. Here’s an example: “The comment, I made was offensive. I’m sorry I was insensitive, and it won’t happen again.”
3. Short and simple will not suffice if that thing that you did was a major betrayal. In those cases, “I’m sorry” is a good first step — for a long-distance run. Step two, is listening to the anger of the wounded party. “There is no greater gift, or one more difficult to offer, than the gift of wholehearted listening to that sort of pain,” Lerner says
4. How to bear a long recitation, of your sins from the person you hurt? Recognize your defensiveness. Ask questions, about whatever, you don’t understand. Find something, you can agree with. Apologize, for your part. Let the offended person know, he or she has been heard. Thank, him or her for sharing. If you see things differently, say so. Draw the line, at insults.
5. If you simply can’t bring yourself to apologize, keep working. Keep trying. Lerner says, “Tendering an apology, one that is authentic and genuinely felt, helps the other person to feel validated, soothed and cared for. It also restores, a sense of well-being and integrity, to the one who sincerely feels, he or she did something wrong.”
If you still can’t apologize, Lerner doesn’t approve, but she does offer a sliver of comfort. You can still change and improve your behavior, she says.
Actions do speak louder than words.