Whether you are faced with having to apologize to a loved one or business partner here are a few antidotes to keep in mind:
S/he says, “I want to talk with you. I’m really upset over how you rushed through lunch with me the other day after having me wait thirty minutes while you sent text messages to God only knows who. This was very inconsiderate and disrespectful and I don’t appreciate being treated this way.”
Can you picture yourself in this situation? Before the third sentence could be finished, the apologies had begun: “Yes, I know. I am very sorry. I tried to…” And now you are on to the next thing.
Sometimes saying “I’m sorry” too soon does more harm than good. This is especially true when the apology comes before acknowledging the other person’s feelings. Because an apology should open the door to honest communication between people.
So how do you achieve this?
1. Don’t start off by saying “I’m sorry.” But I thought apologizing when you do something hurtful is a sign of good manners. It is, but the apology is not the best place to start. Listening is a better place to start.
2. Stop what you are doing and focus on the other person speaking. This is known as effective listening because it involves the use of both ears, your eyes and mind. Try not to fidget, Tweet or file your nails the other person is talking. Your undivided attention will mean more than words can express in the moment.
3. Resist the temptation to become defensive. This is a hard one for most of us because we don’t usually think of ourselves as capable of deliberately hurting someone else. Resist the temptation to start explaining or making excuses for our behavior. Because this too can be interpreted as hurtful.
4. Acknowledge what you just heard the other person say (even if you don’t totally agree with them). If there is a lesson for them to learn from you, the surest way to convey this is by modeling the behavior you would like to see from them.
5. Be courageous enough to ask whether there is anything else they want to share. Doing this can also be affective when coupled with a physical gesture of some sort. You may discover that the real source of anger and hurt feelings has less to do with you than originally thought.
6. Now it is time to apologize. And remember to keep it simple. A heartfelt “I’m sorry” or request that your apology be accepted in many cases will be sufficient. If you determine that what went wrong was your fault, then take full responsibility for what you did because an apology with an excuse is simply not an apology at all. But if you have listened to the other person and conclude that what happened is not your fault, then you could express regret or sadness for the other person’s feelings.
Good: “I am sorry [insert what you did wrong] was offensive.
Bad: “Please forgive me for [insert what you did wrong].
Good: “It saddens me that you feel bad.”
Bad: ” You should have seen it coming.”
7. Express appreciation for the other person. An apology coupled with action steps for every involved to take in the future can be one of the most powerful ways to add mutual benefits to an apology.
The entire process described here should take no more than a few minutes, but makes the difference between a thriving relationship and a stifling one. Give yourself the benefit of what you truly are: one who listens, one who cares, one who is patient.