“Sorry means you feel the pulse of other people’s pain as well as your own, and saying it means you take a share of it. And so it binds us together, makes us trodden and sodden as one another. Sorry is a lot of things. It’s a hole refilled. A debt repaid. Sorry is the wake of misdeed. It’s the crippling ripple of consequence…. But Sorry, really, is not about you. It’s theirs to take or leave.
Sorry means you leave yourself open, to embrace or to ridicule or to revenge. Sorry is a question that begs forgiveness, because the metronome of a good heart won’t settle until things are set right and true. Sorry doesn’t take things back, but it pushes things forward. It bridges the gap. Sorry is a sacrament. It’s an offering. A gift.” ~ Craig Silvey
The words, “I’m sorry” have been mired in a cultural tar pit of lies and I want to liberate you from the muck. We have constructed some rather large cultural fabrications around this simple phrase, like “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” or “Never apologize, it’s a sign of weakness”. Women say it too often and men don’t say it enough. But why? Why is this topic so charged?
The why can be found hidden in the big cultural falsehoods around apologies. Edward R. Murrow, the famous newsman said, “Most truths are so naked that people feel sorry for them and cover them up, at least a little bit.” And that’s what we’ve done. The naked power of authenticity of sincere apologies has gotten covered up by these falsehoods in order to take the sting out of being vulnerable and open with another.
The litmus test for a big cultural lie is to look at the outcome – if the lie delivers the exact opposite of its promise, then you know you found one. So for this situation both the above statements meet this criterion. You will never have love in your life for long without saying you’re sorry and you will never have strength without knowing how to truly apologize.
Apologies are very powerful when used properly. That’s the kicker, how does one wield this power correctly? Well, here are four essential aspects to creating apologies that rock the house!
Make it Timely
“When you realize you’ve made a mistake, make amends immediately. It’s easier to eat crow while it’s still warm.” ~Dan Heist
Apologies repair connection. That’s the truth of it – when a connection is broken somehow, an apology is the way to begin the repair. If the wound was real, then the closer to the actual offence the cleaner the cut, which is easier to repair. Time erodes the edges of the wound, making it harder to sew up. That’s why it is so important to address the wound as quickly as possible. When there is anger or hurt festering, time is not your friend.
Make it Specific
“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” ~ Kimberly Johnson
Use direct, declarative sentences devoid of blame, excuses or justifications. When crafting a rockstar apology get clear on what the offence was so you can rectify it. You want to acknowledge that there was a rift and that you take responsibility for it. This is not about blame or judgment – this is about repairing a relationship so that’s the focus of your apology.
A good example of an apology is: “I’m sorry I was offensive.” This statement acknowledges your responsibility and address the rift.
A bad example is: “I’m sorry you were offended.” Or “I’m sorry if I was offensive.” Both these statements evade personal responsibility and put the other person on the hook for the damage.
The way you frame your apology is paramount to how it is received. Please know that your apology is to mend a rift between you and another, so even if you feel it is not totally your fault or you didn’t mean to cause a problem that’s not what you are addressing with your apology.
Apologies are about the other person’s feelings. You are taking responsibility for the rift; it is not the forum for explaining what you meant to do or how you perceive the situation differently. You can be right or you can be happy – that is the choice you are making with your apology.
Make it Sincere
“Apology is a lovely perfume; it can transform the clumsiest moment into a gracious gift.” ~Margaret Lee Runbeck
Sincerity is transmitted by the words you use and the energy you infuse into the conversation. So while it is imperative to take responsibility through your words, it is also imperative to be in the proper place energetically. Don’t enter into your apology irritated or sarcastically. Don’t use it as a means to reopen the discussion about what happened and who has the correct assessment of the situation.
Enter into this conversation with the intention of a sincere desire to make amends for the disconnection. Take your focus off your perceptions about the event and focus on the connecting part only if that makes it easier for you to move into this place of authenticity. Know your energy is going to speak 100 times louder than your words, so don’t disregard this aspect of your apology.
Make it Openly
“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” ~Paul Boese
Lastly, make your apology with an open expectation of the outcome. Don’t expect that your apology should mean the person no longer feels upset with you or that now they should apologize to you. Both these expectations are centered on using your apology to control or manipulate a situation, rather than to reforge a connection.
Your job is to apologize sincerely, accept responsibility and then let the rest go. Go into it without expectations of the outcome to allow the other person the space to feel what they feel and heal as they heal.
I’m not saying apologies are easy. They take vulnerability. They take accepting responsibility. They take courage, openness and a willingness to put happiness over that delicious feeling of righteousness. But I want that for you. I want you to be courageous. I want you to feel a deeper connection to the people in your life through your vulnerability, authenticity and openness.
Start small, maybe with someone you are not so emotionally entangled with, to practice this skill. But start. Pick up the phone and call someone right now. Patch up a rift in a relationship and feel the rush of even a small success. I am here for you – behind you all the way. So count to 3 and just do it.