Effective Apologies

The Japanese word “Gomenasai,” is roughly equivalent to the English word “sorry.” It is used to apologize when you harm or offend someone. The word implies humility. For example: “Sorry to disturb you…Sorry for coming into your house…” etc. But it is also used as a way to avoid guilt. Someone may apologize just seconds before they ram the back of your legs with a shopping trolley. Another may mouth the word as they rudely cut you off with their car. This is how some people use apologies every day, except perhaps more blatant. How can apologies be so valuable but so misused? A genuine apology is an unfashionable concept. Nevertheless, it is a vital part of life that is indispensable in building strong relationships.

What then, is an apology? In its simplest form, an apology is taking responsibility for a disturbance in a relationship. These insincere apologies imply nothing about your attitude towards the disturbance you are taking responsibility for. A useful apology always acknowledges that you regret your part in the disturbance and are trying to stop or reverse its occurrence. An apology is not only a tool to make peace. It should not be used as a way of saying “Get off my back.” Nor is it a tool that should be used to manipulate others.

When should you apologize? Whenever there is a break in a relationship. No matter what the issue, there will usually be a part, even a small part that may have been your responsibility. For this you should apologize. Realizing that a disturbance is your responsibility is a giant step towards emotional maturity. But WHEN should you apologize? As soon as possible. It is our responsibility to take the initiative to apologize. It takes boldness and integrity to make the first step. A genuine apology is a deliberate effort to solve a relational problem that you have contributed to. This requires discipline. We all need to sharpen up our apology sense.

Below are some tips on how to apologize in a manner that will be effective:

Make It Genuine – Anyone can spot a false apology and it will do more harm than good. A genuine apology is aimed solely at taking responsibility and overcoming a disturbance. There are no hidden obligations or expectations attached.

Do Not Justify Your Actions – If you are busy explaining why you did what you did, it will start to sound like you are not apologizing at all, that you are not ready to take responsibility. A brief explanation may help understanding, while a justification may just fuel the disturbance.

Make A Commitment To Change – If you cannot confirm that you mean to improve, then you are not committed to an apology. This will be a hollow and ineffective apology.

Be Prepared For An Awkward Conclusion – While sometimes an apology is followed straight away by a counter apology, peace and little birds carrying banners of love through the air, not everyone reacts this way. Some people will behave indifferently, some will behave coldly and some may react in a hostile manner. This is out of your control. You have made the step to apologize. Doing it in a productive way is the best you can do. Perhaps the other person will appreciate it now, later, or never. You have done your part. The rest is up to them.