Learn to Say You're Sorry
A friend told me about the disastrous apology of a business colleague. He said, "I wasn't expecting an apology and didn't even want one. In fact, what he did was very minor, not really worth an apology. All he did was make things worse. I wasn't even angry before, but now I am. Now I want an apology. I deserve an apology."
"What went wrong?" I asked.
"His ‘apology’ is what went wrong. It wasn't an apology at all. His idea of an apology is my idea of a personal attack."
As silly as all that may sound, it is actually not that uncommon. Since none of us are perfect, we had better master the art of making a good apology. More than one apology, so called, has just made things worse, lots worse. If you're perfect, read no further. Otherwise, here are some keys to making a good apology. My suspicion is, unless you live on a deserted island, it’s a skill you'll need before you reach the finish line.
- Apologize for what you did, not how the other person reacted. "I'm sorry I made you angry," is no apology at all. It just means I find it regrettable that you are so emotionally crippled that you got angry. "I'm sorry I told about the surprise party. What an idiot I am.” Now that's an apology.
- Do not make light of your transgression. "Look, it was an accident. I was really, really tired. I didn't mean to. Anyway, no real damage was done." That's not an apology. That's just rationalizing, explaining away your failure and minimizing the pain you've inflicted. A real apology goes more like this: "I can't believe I did that. There's simply no excuse I can make. I'm so, so sorry."
- Try to make restitution the best you can. "I hope someday you can forgive me but in the meantime what I can do is pay for all the damages. I will make sure that this is repaired or replaced to the best of my ability and to your satisfaction. I hope I can make this up to you."
- Never mention any way in which the person you've hurt partially caused or added to the situation. "I know I shouldn't have backed into your car, but really you shouldn't have parked there." Never make an apology that points out how the other person was partly to blame. Take all the blame.
- Ask for forgiveness, but never press or demand. The greater the pain you've given, the longer the forgiveness will probably take. Give those you've hurt time to forgive. Confess, repent, make restitution, validate the other person's pain or loss and finally give them time to get healed. Because you caused the damage, you are the least likely person in the world to "speed up the healing process."
- Finally, change whatever you were doing that caused whatever happened. Get serious about not becoming a repeat offender. Change your ways. Roses and chocolate may go a long way but what really turns it around is changed behavior. That means this way I hurt you was so egregious that it has propelled me to change. “I will never again drive that way." " I will never again be so careless with coffee."
- Most importantly of all - be sincere. A shallow, insincere, half-hearted apology that merely explains away bad behavior is a double wound. Humble yourself, be honest and tell how heartbroken you are.
No one sins in a vacuum. Every time we fall or fail somebody else gets hurt. No one goes through life without inflicting some damage. Along the way, learn what it means to apologize, and the healing you long for will have actually begun.
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