In the wake of a disagreement, admitting to your part in its escalation can be a challenge. Pointing the finger of blame elsewhere might seem like an easy way out, but doing so has its own repercussions. An apology is a better way to clean up your side of the street. Don’t just pay lip service—use this process to get to a point where your words are backed by your emotions.
Zoom in, zoom out.
Anger and resentment can blind us to our own involvement in a situation. Take a step back and consider the part you played in the events. After identifying your role, consider the whole picture and the other person’s contributions as objectively as possible. Ask yourself how the situation have turned out differently. What could each (or both) of you have done?
Swallow your pride.
Apologizing can be difficult, particularly when you feel embarrassed or ashamed of your actions. Acknowledge what you did and the harm it caused, and offer a clear solution. Then make every effort to change the behavior that caused the harm. Give the other person time to process your apology, and seek out moments to demonstrate your sincerity and your commitment to restoring the relationship.
An apology can mean the difference between moving forward and staying stuck. Some people find it hard to let go of resentment and hostility until they hear a sincere acknowledgement. Separate apology from victory—don’t view it as a concession or worry about the other person’s side of the dispute. You are mending a relationship, not competing in one.
Put it behind you.
You can apologize without forgiving, but doing so isn’t in your best interests. Holding a grudge is like poisoning yourself and expecting it to have some ill effect on another—you’ll find that your own morale and productivity decreases, while the offender often isn’t affected at all.
Forgiving someone for wrongdoing lifts a weight off your mind and grants you a sense of peace and agency. You may not be able to control everything that happens to you, but you can always control how you react. This goes for your relationships with others as well as your day-to-day existence.
Give yourself a break.
Perhaps the hardest person to forgive is, well, you—but if you can’t let yourself off the hook, it won’t matter whether anyone else does. Train your conscious mind to be aware of the critical voice inside your head. Once you’re attuned to your own toxic thoughts, you’ll be able to reframe them and take steps toward not being so hard on yourself. This will make you more likely to cut others a bit of slack as well.
Take baby steps.
When a conflict is extreme or has dragged on for quite some time, total forgiveness might seem like an unthinkable demand. Begin by forgiving the small stuff, and trust that the larger issues will become easier to forgive in time. Think of forgiveness as a process that takes time, energy, and effort. Just because you can’t quite get there yet doesn’t mean you never will.
Adapted from Conflict 101: A Manager’s Guide to Resolving Problems So Everyone Can Get Back to Work. Copyright © Susan H. Shearouse. Published by AMACOM Books. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
When an Apology Isn’t a Real One
Your amends have to be sincere, or they really won’t come off as a true apology. Here are some examples of what to avoid.
- The quick, flippant, “I’m sorry” won’t carry any weight if you say it too soon, without reflection. It’s likely to be heard as just a way to get out of an uncomfortable situation as quickly as possible.
- If you apologize too frequently, for everything, you probably won’t be taken seriously. Don’t apologize for things you can’t control — “I’m sorry it’s raining,” “I’m sorry you forgot your lunch.” These are meaningless and empty.
- “I’m sorry you felt that way” isn’t an apology, because you’re not accepting responsibility for your own actions.
- “I’m sorry you misunderstood what I said,” or “I’m sorry I didn’t get that report to you on time. You didn’t give me enough time to do it,” are both non-apologies that turn blame back onto the other person.