How a Good Apology Can Change Your LifeNone By Donna Moriarty
Nobody’s perfect. At some point or other, we all screw up. We’ve lost a borrowed sweater, shouted mean things in anger, or accidentally sideswiped a parked car. What can set you above most other people is the ability to deal with those mistakes quickly, effectively, and confidently.
Knowing how (and when) to admit you’re wrong and facing it squarely with a good apology—well, that’s power. Power to heal strained relationships, sort out misunderstandings, and persuade hostile forces—be they spouses, friends, foes, in-laws, or bosses—to stand down.
Here’s an example. You’re at a wedding, chatting with friends or a family member or two. On a group visit to the restroom, the conversation turns to someone who’s experiencing difficulty—her troubled marriage, her sullen teenagers, her weight gain. Suddenly one of the stalls opens and out storms the person you’ve been gossiping about. Her eyes streaming tears, she singles you out and shrieks, “I thought you were my friend!”
Obviously, you owe her an apology. Right?
Yes, you do. Never mind that the others joined in the gossip-fest or that what you said was mostly true. That’s just another way of saying, “It wasn’t my fault”—a major stumbling block to any apology.
What matters is that the damage has been done. If you care anything at all about your relationship, you’ll try to make it right, or risk causing even more damage. At the very least, you’re likely to suffer, too, with feelings of guilt, defensiveness, and resentment—the scar tissue that builds around an undelivered apology.
Here’s a rule of thumb: if you’re crossing the street to avoid someone you’ve had a falling out with, it’s a sure sign you owe them an apology. The longer you avoid it, the more you’re going to suffer.
True, it’s not for the faint of heart. A good apology demands self-awareness, honesty, and a big slice of humble pie. We need to own our mistake, recognize the damage it caused, and resolve to make things right.
There are many ways to cause harm, and we’ve all been there: We pressed send. We went over our boss’s head, humiliating her. We drank too much and embarrassed our spouse. We yelled hurtful things at our kids and later felt we went too far.
So how do we repair those harms done to our most important relationships?
1. Admit It
A good apology starts with an unflinching self-appraisal: What did you do? Why was it wrong? Take a hard look at what you did. You know the cues—something a friend once called “the uh-oh feeling in your tummy.” Don’t run from that feeling—it’s your conscience, and it will help guide you out of the mess you’re in.
2. Express It
Seek out your victim and say the words, face to face. Usually (although not always) the words are “I’m sorry.” This is bafflingly difficult for some people, but you won’t get anywhere by dodging them. The first rule of a good apology is to do it promptly, or risk re-offending. Say it simply and without excuses: “I’m sorry you overheard those awful things I said. I hope you can forgive me.”
3. Fix It
A crucial element of a good apology is restitution—making things right for the person who was harmed. Lean in. Ask your friend how you can make it up to her. She might surprise you, like the time a friend told me, “I miss you. Could we go out for lunch, just the two of us?” But even if she’s still furious and needs a break from your friendship, at least you’ve done the right thing by apologizing.
4. Change It
While the words of an apology are important, they mean nothing if you don’t back them up. If you’ve agreed to some action that will make things right, follow through. Keep your promise to be a better friend. Stop nagging your teenager. Be supportive of your boss, nice to your server, patient with your messy mate.
A good apology—well-delivered—can improve your relationships, boost your confidence, and help you feel more hopeful, brave, capable, and in control.
Stop feeling guilty and give it a try. Watch mistrust give way to warmth and forgiveness. Watch hope replace the feeling that nothing will ever change. Enjoy the freedom that comes from a clear conscience—which, as my grandma used to say, is the softest pillow.
Donna Moriarty, M.P.H., is a writer, editor, and author whose passion for writing, speaking, and listening encompasses the most powerful and enduring forms of human connection. She has written and edited award-winning publications, web content, and marketing materials, and her portfolio includes short fiction and non-fiction, book reviews, and a one-act play. Her first book, Not Just Words: How a Good Apology Makes You Braver, Bolder, and Better at Life, was published in 2018. Follow her on Twitter @demoriarty.
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