Several times in the past, I have written on the power of an apology, including the right and wrong way to do it. When I saw an article by Jane Brody (entitled, “The Right Way to Say, ‘I’m Sorry’”) in the New York Times (January 31, 2017) discussing this topic, I could not let the opportunity slip by.
As in all other articles on the subject, Ms. Brody emphasizes that to be effective, an apology must be sincere. If poorly worded, an apology can only exacerbate the situation rather than ease the hurt and pain caused by the initial faux pas. (Id.) For example, to say “I am sorry” and then add a “but” or some excuse or rationalization will only make matters worse. A short and simple “I am sorry” without an excuse is what is needed. Adding any more will detract from the message and backfire. (Id.)
Quoting Dr. Harriet Lerner, a psychologist and author of a new book on the topic, Why Won’t You Apologize, Ms. Brody notes that a request for forgiveness should NOT be part of the apology. While the offended party may be willing to accept the apology, she may not be ready to forgive, just yet; time may be needed for this to occur. Evidently, Dr. Lerner, unlike other authors on this topic, does not view a failure to forgive as harmful to our health. That is, it is okay to accept an apology and still be unforgiving. (I am not sure that I agree with this one!)
Ms. Brody makes another obvious point. To say “I am sorry you feel that way” etc. is NOT an apology as it shifts the focus away from what you allegedly did wrong to the person who was supposedly the victim of your wrong. In truth, it is essentially saying that you are not sorry at all for what you did. (Id.)
So… why do many folks find it hard to apologize. Dr. Lerner has the answer:
… “humans are hard-wired for defensiveness. It’s very difficult to take direct, unequivocal responsibility for our hurtful actions. It takes a great deal of maturity to put a relationship or another person before our need to be right.”
Offering an apology is an admission of guilt that admittedly leaves people vulnerable. There’s no guarantee as to how it will be received. It is the prerogative of the injured party to reject an apology, even when sincerely offered. The person may feel the offense was so enormous — for example, having been sexually abused by a parent — that it is impossible to accept a mea culpa offered by the abusive parent years later. (Id.)
In connection with making a sincere apology, Dr. Lerner suggests that the apologizer use ‘nondefenseive listening’:
“Nondefensive listening ------------------------------------- If you would like to receive this blog automatically by e mail each week, please click on one of the following plugins/services:
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