The Anatomy of a Good Apology

You’ve done something. Your partner is upset. Now what?

A)  You can ignore it and hope your partner will get over their hurt. Couples do this all the time, but the problem is the injured partner tends not to forget. Instead, that little pain is more likely to act like a splinter and dig its way into their heart and a grudge will begin to fester.

B)  You can try a quick apology, but unless you’re careful you might actually make things worse. See The Anatomy of a Bad Apology for 15 things NOT to do when apologizing. Sadly, sometimes an insincere apology adds insult to injury and makes things even worse.

C)  You can make a good apology, the four steps for which are right below. This should mend the hurt and keep grudges from forming, but this is not always guaranteed, even with a good apology.

D)  You can make a great apology. Come back next week for this. A great apology is one in which you use the painful incident as an opportunity to understand yourself and your partner more deeply, undertake some inner and outer healing and diminish the likelihood of future misunderstandings between you.

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How To Make A Good Apology

Step 1 ~ REGRET

Express your regret and remorse. Every apology needs to start with the honest, tried and true “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.”

Step 2 ~ RECOGNITION

Keep the focus on the person who’s experiencing the hurt. Recognize and acknowledge their pain. If they’ve told you why they’re upset reflect this back to them. “You’re feeling really angry at me right now, and you’re frustrated because this has happened before.” Or, if you’re not sure what has upset them, you could take an informed guess. “I’m guessing you’re feeling angry and disappointed because this happened last week as well?”

 Step 3 ~ RESPONSIBILITY

Even though the odds are good that you have all sorts of reasons for why you did what you did, and you too may be frustrated by a familiar cycle where your actions trigger a hurt or angry response in your partner, it’s important for a good apology that you take responsibility for whatever you did or said that upset your partner. Do your best to understand exactly what you did that was upsetting. Was it this ~

“I can see why you’d be feeling angry. I invited you to the office party and immediately took off with my colleagues and didn’t even check in with you when it got late.”

Or is this more accurate?

“I can see why you’d be feeling angry. I invited you to the office party and didn’t make any effort to introduce you to my friends, even though you’d expressed an interest in meeting them.”

Step 4 ~ REPAIR

A good apology ends with some combination of making amends and promising not to speak or behave in that hurtful way again. Be mindful here. Your amends need to speak to the injury. If you abandoned someone at a party, maybe you can offer to be extra attentive next time. If you missed a chance to introduce two people, see if you can create another opportunity. As for the promise? Make it something you can actually do. Be specific.

Offering to “never abandon or ignore your requests ever again!” is highly likely to fail!

But this is more likely to be successful ~

“Next party, lets have a chat about what each of us might need. I want to be sure I check in with you. And, if there’s someone you want to meet, I want to be sure to introduce you.”

If you’ve been following this series on apologizing and wonder how it might look between Amos and Zoe, my friend Stuart offers a wonderfully thoughtful variation on this theme. His Step 3 involves “Explanation (not justification) of reason(s) that gave rise to the wrongdoing”, and you may also like to include this.

From Amos to Zoe:

  1. I’m really sorry for getting angry this morning (recognition of the wrong).
  2. It probably made you feel pretty small – like I was a parent or teacher or something scolding you… to say nothing of making you wary of me. You don’t deserve that from me (recognition that the wrong was hurtful to Zoe).
  3. I think that when you introduced me as your “friend” and then went off to have fun with your friends all my insecurities and feelings of unworthiness were triggered and I let them out in anger (explanation without justification).
  4. I know I have to deal with my feelings of not being quite good enough for you (or anyone), but, in the meantime, let’s see if we can find a way for me to vent my insecurity that doesn’t make you the object of my anger (proposal, commitment to find alternative behaviors).”

From Zoe to Amos:

  1. You know, I’ve been thinking about it and I wasn’t very considerate last night (recognition of wrong).
  2. I’m sorry. Introducing you as my “friend” sort of diminishes our relationship and then going off and engaging with my friends, people you don’t even know, probably left you feeling abandoned (recognition that the wrong was hurtful to Amos).
  3. I think I was a little self-absorbed, intent on having fun and making an impression and forgetful of the fact that you may have been feeling like a fish out of water (explanation without justification).
  4. I know I have to deal with my thoughtlessness, but, in the meantime, perhaps we can work out some signals and ways to check in with each other when we go to such events (proposal, commitment to find alternative behaviors).”

(Thanks Stuart – I love these.)

These apologies are good. Try them on. How do you feel? Probably these would make a big difference and maybe bring you closer.

If you want to deepen this idea – that conflict is actuality a spring board for getting closer to your partner – come back next week, for The Anatomy of a Great Apology.

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FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

SKILLS FOR RE-CONNECTING

SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

 SKILL TEN ~ Apologize & “Do Over” When You’ve Blown It

9 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Good Apology

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