An apology represents a common frailty –we are all human, we all make mistakes, perhaps even hurt someone, intentionally or not, then we face the dilemma of where to go from there. How we respond can have a monumental effect on our relationship(s), yet we rarely discuss the use of apology or the difference it can make in our lives.
An apology requires us to shift our focus from ourselves–our own discomfort, our own embarrassment, our own sense of guilt–to the person or people we’ve offended–Their hurt, their sense of betrayal. It requires us to act selfless. Here’s the hard truth: we must first admit that our own pride poses the biggest obstacle to apologizing.
Once we’ve accepted this truth there are four simple parts to an apology, and they need not be applied in this specific order:
First, the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” If the other important parts of an apology are there, it can still be a good apology without these words. But the rest of it has to be really good, so, play it safe and include those words.
Second, say what you are sorry for, acknowledge what you did, or what you said. Be specific. Not “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings” but something more specific like: “I’m sorry I called you buffalo breath after you asked me to stop.” It may feel painful to name what you did, but if you leave it out, it leaves open the possibility that you have reservations or are not taking responsibility.
Third, acknowledge the effect it has had. “Calling you names must have hurt your feelings.” Or “when I yell at you it must really be frightening for you and the children.” You don’t have to go out on a limb and act like a mind reader but it’s important to acknowledge how you are responsible for your actions. Again, it’s no fun to describe this, but it’s important to show you understand the impact.
Fourth and probably the most important step: what you’re going to do to correct the circumstances or effect change. This step often includes what you’re going to do to make sure it won’t happen again, what you’ll do to make up for what you’ve done or the steps you’re going to take in order to change a behavior. You can also ask how you might make things right. If the person doesn't have anything specific in mind, offer something to make up for your oversight or behavior.
Clearing the air with a Four-Part Apology relieves tensions and feels great. It releases positive energy and creates synergy, especially if it’s tension that’s been festering for a long time. Anyone who has offered up a real, solid, true apology will attest that in doing so they released themselves from the very pain, discomfort, and shame they may have been avoiding all along! People whose relationships have faltered for years often get back on track when they apologize with this level of responsibility.
West Valley Counseling Center is a non-profit counseling center serving the valley community. Established in 2006, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable therapy in a private practice setting. Our goal is to meet the needs of those who cannot afford, or do not have access to these services due to economic circumstances.
For more information or to speak to one of our staff, please contact us at (818) 758-9450 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
West Valley Counseling Center is located at 19634 Ventura Blvd. Suite 212 Tarzana, CA 91356