No one is perfect. We’re only human. And therefore, as difficult as it may be, the ability to admit our wrongs, accept responsibility for our actions, and ask for forgiveness is crucial to any healthy relationship. A careless comment, a missed appointment, showing up late for carpool – these are everyday occurrences that happen more than we’d like, and each warrants an honest apology.
Almost worse than no apology is the inauthentic apology. Think of the seemingly endless celebrity pleas following racist remarks, public outbursts, scandals or regrettable behavior caught on tape. Such carefully crafted PR statements often seem interchangeable – just swap out the name and unfortunate incident and you have your sound bite. Adverse reactions range from dismissive eye rolls to downright disgust at the emptiness of the attempt.
Paradoxically, a heartfelt apology can heal wounds and strengthen relationships. It’s how children recognize that their parents are fallible and, more importantly, trustworthy. Spouses and partners can clear the air and start again. Friendships survive lifetimes littered with mistakes because of sincere attempts at amends.
What are the pitfalls to dodge so we avoid sounding like a celebrity mouthpiece following a particularly cringe-worthy incident? Here are 5 sure-fire ways to screw up the act of apologizing:
- Saying you’re sorry when you haven’t done anything wrong (ahem, ladies) is both unnecessary and detrimental. “I’m sorry, can I scoot past you?” “So sorry, can you repeat that?” Using “Excuse me” in any of these scenarios is still polite, but doesn’t dilute the power of a bona fide apology, nor make you seem weak and timid.
- Waiting to make amends even when you know you are wrong risks damaging the relationship permanently. Just ask those who are no longer on speaking terms with friends or relatives if waiting for the ‘perfect moment’ is a good idea.
- Blurting out “Sorry!” to get it over with doesn’t do the trick. Consider where and why you went wrong, what you will try to do differently next time – and then verbalize it. “Sorry I’m late” carries much less weight than “I’m sorry I’m late. I got caught up with work and I should have wrapped up sooner. Next time I will set an alarm so I can be here on time.”
- Texting or emailing an apology may seem like a welcome option, but a face-to-face discussion is the big kid way to handle it. Typed messages carry the risk of misinterpretation and lack eye contact and facial expressions to get your point across. Bite the bullet and go in person.
- Apologizing without making things right is like saying “I’ll call you!” when you have no intention of doing so…it’s phony and meaningless. If you need to replace, repair or restore something that was damaged due to your actions, do it. And soon.
Keeping these no-no’s in mind when it’s your turn for a bite of humble pie will ensure your apology is heartfelt and effective. This allows all parties to relinquish the past and move forward, aware of our own imperfections and pledging our commitment to try to do better.