I recently apologized.
The apology wasn’t acknowledged and an email conversation went on back and forth as if I hadn’t taken a step back from the emotions involved and looked at the situation with humility and common sense.
Am I going to lose any sleep over this slight? Nah. But it’s made me want to think more about social and professional interactions.
I’ve always hated, HATED, when teachers (adults) TELL a student to apologize for their actions. If you have to be told then you’re not reallllyyy sorry and you haven’t or can’t process the variables involved in the apologize-able incident. So I started researching what giving an effective apology and effectively receiving an apology actually entails.
Gary Chapman, in his book The Five Languages of Apology states there are 5 ways to structure an apology.
1. Expressing Regret – Saying, “I am sorry.”
2. Accepting Responsibility – Admitting, “I was wrong.”
3. Making Restitution – Committing, “I will make it right.”
4. Genuinely Repenting – Promising, “I will not do that again.”
5. Requesting Forgiveness – Asking, “Will you forgive me?”
Personally, I structured my recent apology via 1, 2, and 4. I think 5 is a little questionable and may come across a tad pleading and annoying but may have a place in close friendships and family. 3 could be effective in another more serious instance where an apology is needed.
Elvira G. Aletta, Ph.D. in a Psychcentral article laid out 7 Ways to Give an Apology and 4 Ways to Accept One. The most important point she brings up is to think about the overall situation and not to get defensive. Whenever we have a moment of disagreement the first thing you want the other person to succumb to is…your point of view! We could drag out an argument or heated discussion and get to the end of it all where we could come out VICTORIOUS! Or emotions could just keep ramping up and both sides would feel like crap. Sometimes you need to assess the consequences of slogging it out in the boxing ring over 12 rounds just to leave mentally and physically exhausted. Tough I know. Stepping back, assessing the situation, with a ruler of common sense can be the best (and toughest) option at the end of the day.
Admittedly Elvira G. Aletta accepts that face to face is more effective where nothing can get lost in translation over an email or text message. Personally, an email worked as the medium in my scenario (with the severity of the incident not at crisis level) but I agree that face to face can lead to more effective outcomes.
The last point I want to focus on from that article is that apologizing and moving on is the best thing to do. Move on with your life and work. Apologizing is a release from ever increasing angst. This leads me on to what needs to be done when accepting an apology as it’s kinda hard to stomach an apology being either ignored or thrown back in your face.
Of course accepting an apology takes as much effort as giving one. Maybe even more-so depending on the severity of the apologize-able (I’m making it a word, alright?!) issue. How can we be the better person on either side of an apology? Dr. Aletta suggests that when receiving an apology you open yourself to the other person’s feelings. Appreciate and acknowledge the sincerity of the apology and for heckfire’s sake don’t drag out the entire situation! I would also suggest in addition to her suggestion of being “direct” in your receipt of an apology is to avoid ignoring or not acknowledging the apology. One person is reaching out after an incident so the initial burn of anger and resentment is dying down on at least one side. Acknowledge that and respect the steps they are taking.
Heidi Grant in a Harvard Business Review article acknowledges that your apologies change with the people involved. Bumping into a stranger on the street? “Sorry, man”. A close friend? You may need to apologize with “Expressions of empathy… recognizing and expressing concern over the suffering you caused” You let a colleague or colleagues down? “you need to admit that you broke the code of behavior of your social group, your organization, or your society”
Allowing common sense to prevail in guiding you to effectively apologize or accept an apology and acknowledging the different variables involved (severity, people involved, environment) can lead to a more productive and mutually beneficial workplace.