Recently (like last Thursday), I did something wrong. I did something I shouldn’t have done. It was bad, I was bad, the whole thing was awful. There were tears (on my side at least) and hurt feelings and heated words. I could say all sorts of things to make it seem like I had a valid reason for what I did that would make it appear that there were mitigating circumstances, but I’m not going to do that. No. That would defeat the purpose of apologizing in the first place.
You see, over the course of my adult life, and particularly since I’ve become a parent, I’ve had to apologize more than once and I’ve
forced witnessed others apologize too. Some of the apologies have been good (or sincere and appropriate) and others have been, not as good. Kids tend to apologize only partially and imperfectly and we accept these are building blocks for the future. The only problem is, I’ve seen too many adults who still apologize like little kids. From these experiences, I like to think I’ve learned a lot about what are the key parts of a “good” apology (like the one I had to deliver myself a few days ago). So without further ado:
The Requirements for a Good, Grown Up Apology
- Just do it. If you realize you were wrong, don’t wait to apologize. The longer you let it go by without acknowledging the wrong and saying you’re sorry, the worse it will be all around.
- Keep it simple and straightforward. Don’t give explanations that end up sounding like excuses. Don’t try to wrap up a million unsaid things into this one apology. Stay focused on the subject at hand and stick to it. Don’t be distracted.
- Remember that an apology should never include the word “but” or anything like it. Example: “I’m sorry, but…” What you’re really saying there is, “I’m sorry, but it’s not really my fault and it may even be your fault in fact.” Just stick with “I was wrong and I’m sorry for what I did.”
- Remember also that an apology should be phrased so that you are placing the blame on yourself. Example of a poor apology: “I’m sorry if you were offended by what I said.” Example of a good apology: “I’m sorry I offended you with what I said.” That’s the great thing about the English language; for everything you want to say, there is in fact usually only one way to say it that will be both grammatically correct and convey your meaning. The first implies that what you said was fine, it was the other person’s fault for being offended. The second implies that what you said was wrong and offensive and places the blame squarely on your own shoulders.
- Be prepared to not have your apology accepted. That’s OK. That’s not on you, it’s on them, and you can’t make someone accept your apology. It’s never an excuse to not apologize when you are in the wrong.
The main thing to remember where apologies are concerned, in my mind, is that we are, each of us, only responsible for our own actions. When we die and come face to face with God, He won’t say, “It’s OK John. I understand. I know you just had to curse that person out because they’re behavior made you.” It’s just like we tell our sons. You can’t hit back just because the other guy hit first. You’re still hitting and now you’re both in trouble. No one can force us to do anything. It’s that whole free will thing. We have a choice with everything we do. We can behave ourselves no matter what the situation or we can choose to misbehave. Once we’ve made that choice though, there’s nothing for it but to apologize, quickly, and sincerely, like a grown up.