If you are human and breathing, sooner or later you will say or do something that calls for an apology. Sometimes you might immediately be aware of your transgression; and, sometimes it might take some reflection or a gentle nudge from another to let you know that an apology is called for. You may even have what I refer to as an OMG moment that translates into “I can’t believe I said or did that.” Although those moments may feel lousy for both sides of the interaction, they serve as powerful reminders that you have just violated your personal values, code of ethics and/or sense of personal or professional integrity.
Types & Impact:Apologies fall into three main categories – authentic, inauthentic and what I refer to as semi-authentic. Each type has a specific impact on the receiver of the apology. An authentic apology results in the receiver feeling heard, understood and honored. Authentic apologies result from introspection, empathy and a desire to deepen/strengthen a relationship. An inauthentic one feels lousy, insincere, cold and manipulative; it usually results from the apologizer’s motivation to avoid personal responsibility and move on. The receiver of an inauthentic apology does not feel understood, appreciated or valued as a unique human being. Semi-authentic apologies are less distinctive and usually feel a bit insidious to the receiver. Often they result from a lack of skill and self-awareness, rather than a lack of positive intention and caring for the other person. On the surface, semi-authentic apologies appear to have a positive intention; what is usually missing beneath the surface is acknowledgement and ownership of the reason for the apology.
How:An authentic apology is comprised of four basic elements that can be mastered over time through focused practice. These fundamentals, when applied in both personal and professional realms, provide a means to the end of engaged, genuine and productive relationships. Authentic apologies include the following:
1. Recognition – usually the result of reflection and self-awareness that you said or did something that did not honor someone or violated your values or standards.
2. Acknowledgement – directly to the relevant person of what you did or said and that these words or actions had a direct impact on this person.
3. Ownership – of what was said or done, specifically: “I’m sorry that I did or said ______. You didn’t deserve that and it was wrong of me to say/do that.” A semi-authentic apology usually includes the words “I’m sorry you were hurt, etc.,” but fails to formally acknowledge or take ownership for what was said or done.
4. Next Steps – specifically what you propose to do as a means to make amends and/or repair the damage done to the relationship or situation. This step takes on the form of a collaboration, e.g.: “This is what I can do now (or going forward) to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Does this work for you?”
Result:Authentic apologies consistently result in relationships that increase in depth, intimacy and satisfaction over time. Practicing the Art of Apology also serves to increase self-awareness and connection to your core values, providing a road map for an empowering life. I invite you to play with the four basic elements of an authentic apology and notice the difference in your personal and professional lives.