Authored by Mara Hodler
Those three words, I am sorry, and the way that they’re said, can mend or end friendships. We all live and interact with people every day. The relationships we share with our parents, teachers, friends, siblings, coworkers, boyfriend or girlfriend, and classmates are vital to the happiness and satisfaction we get out of life. And yet, in sharing relationships with people we can be sure that sometimes we will make mistakes and need to apologize. Believe it or not, there is a bit of an art to apologizing. When done wrong, it can further alienate the recipient. When done correctly, it can mend a wound and bring you back into close relationship.
I’ve learned a lot about apologizing from having to make a whole lot of apologies. Here are a few apologies I have tried that haven’t gone so well:
“I’m sorry that you were offended by that.”
What I was really saying here was that the other person was just a little bit too sensitive. I did what needed to be done or said, and it damaged their weak spirit. I’ve also been on the receiving end of this kind of apology and found it very belittling.
“I’m sorry that I’m not perfect and can’t do everything as well as you can.”
Here I’m not taking any ownership for my actions, but basically excusing them by the fact that I am not perfect. I’m saying that the other person’s expectations are just way too high and absolving myself of any responsibility in the situation.
“I’m sorry that the glass broke, but if you hadn’t bumped me, none of this would have happened!”
In this crafty version of an apology, I am using it to place blame on the person I am apologizing to. Contrary to what you might think, this is not at all subtle. You’re actually using your apology as a vehicle to express your disapproval of the other person’s actions. Talk about counterproductive!
A good apology has to come from a place of remorse. You have to recognize your part in the situation and be willing to take responsibility for it.
Say you’re hanging out with your friends. You’re all sitting around talking and laughing. Without thinking much of it, you blurt out something that embarrasses your friend. Maybe you use something they told you in confidence in a joke, or something thoughtless like that. Immediately after you say it, you wish you hadn’t because your friend is clearly upset by it. So you apologize with, “Man, I’m sorry! You know I was only kidding!”
That, my friend, is a very lame apology. An apology like that will confirm to your friend that you are not to be trusted. The Bible says that “an offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city.”1 That means that once you have offended someone, their defenses come up, and you have to put effort into getting past that defense. A half-baked apology will not cut it.
So what does a good apology look like? Above all it is humble and remorseful. It will contain three key ingredients: regret, responsibility, and remedy.
Regret means that you express remorse over the situation.
Responsibility means that you take ownership for your part in the event.
Remedy shows that you are willing to take some kind of action to correct the situation or to ensure that it does not happen again.
Here’s an example of a better apology to the friend you embarrassed, using the three “Rs”:
—Remorse: I’m sorry that I offended you with that joke.
—Responsibility: It was really thoughtless of me to say that, and I know I betrayed your trust.
—Remedy: I’m going to work on being more trustworthy, so that I can be a better friend to you.
An apology like that takes some thought, maybe even a little heart searching. It takes a little effort and a lot of humility, but it’s the only kind of apology that’s worth giving. You have to understand that it’s not a matter of “crafting the perfect apology,” but rather a sincere desire to make right the wrong you have done. With a little practice, it will become easier to express yourself, and it won’t seem like such a big deal to have to apologize to someone. And the good news is, we’re all guaranteed a fair bit of practice!
Another thing you have to understand about an apology is that it is not contingent upon receiving the other person’s forgiveness. How the other person reacts is their choice. If you really hurt them, it’s possible that one apology is not going to change how they feel about you—at least not immediately.
You can always add a “will you please forgive me?” to the apology. It’s important to ask for forgiveness when you have hurt someone, but you have to realize that the other person is entitled to their own feelings. They might be upset with you, want to distance themselves from you, or even feel like punishing you for a bit. Give them their space, but stand by your apology with your actions.
If you really hurt someone, they may want some “proof” that it won’t happen again. You will have to make the effort to change in the ways you said you would. But that’s good for you, too. It helps you mature and become the kind of person you actually want to be.
In most cases a sincere apology will be what it takes to mend the wound. Most of us know that there’s a good chance we’ll be on the giving side of the apology next time, so we accept an apology and reinstate the friend.
It’s just important that you understand that an apology is not a magic reset button that will immediately erase the sting of your actions. An apology is a first step in winning back your friend, family, or even a new acquaintance. Your actions and what you do to follow through are the next steps in the process of building and regaining trust.
1 Proverbs 18:19 NLT
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2016 by The Family International