There is a take away here. There is a way that the enormous error in judgment I’ve made will help me be better in the long run. Of course, there is one little quid pro quo: I have to take responsibility of my fault and admit that I was wrong. This is the worst. I hate it when I’m wrong, especially about something that I felt sure about. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem possible that I could have misjudged my deeply held beliefs, whether they’re about myself or someone else. Unfortunately, I am too often wrong and mistaken, and I know that the only way to grow and learn from the situation is to address it head on.
Everyone makes mistakes and has weaknesses, but admitting to them and apologizing is a skill only a few possess. Whether it’s a minor slip or an era of misjudgment, recognizing your own fault and then swallowing your pride and asking for forgiveness is an important ability for any one in any type of relationship. I suppose being able to forgive and understand is another one, but that may be an entirely separate topic.
I asked Cheating June friends what they want out of an apology and how often they received the apology they hope for. Many had the same general idea of what an apology should include, but they were split on how often they got the apology. Some thought they got these apologies enough while others felt they got them very rarely. The bottom line is, they all appreciate a well-meant apology and are likely to forgive if they get a good one.
“The thing to realize is nobody is perfect and everyone should realize this. That’s why there’s nothing wrong with making mistakes as long as you realize you tripped up and apologize. It’s the lesson learned that’s important. You’re not an adult until you can do that.”
-Cheating June friend
Recognizing your fault
Lately I heard about a technique which Parker Palmer advises people to use in order to step outside themselves, and it’s been a great tool for me both in understanding where other people may be coming from and in understanding my impact on them. Palmer says to picture the person you’re dealing with in a setting that is comfortable to them (a living room, a soccer field, a beach). Then imagine what they may be thinking of… what makes them excited, worried, happy or upset. In that, we can walk in their shoes for just a bit, and we can let go of whatever selfish thoughts we have about holding on to our pride or our presumptions.
My dad always encouraged me to constantly find ways to be a better soccer player. He’d suggest that I ask coaches what I could have done better in a game or ask teammates how I could have helped them more. When I was frustrated with someone or not getting the ball from her, Dad would tell me to step up my communication and find out what I was doing wrong. Sometimes this was hard, because from my point of view, I was doing everything right. I was running to support, calling for the ball, and going to goal. However, after getting outside points of view, I’d very often find that there were things I needed to do better or differently and could fix them and be better the next time.
Both of these techniques feed into the one little key principle: before you judge someone else, you better take a good look at yourself. Chances are you play a role in the problem and while you’re waiting on an apology from someone else, you could just as easily fix the problem with one of your own.
“The best (and hardest) apologies are when the person apologizing hasn’t done anything objectively wrong, but concedes that his or her past actions have caused another to be hurt.”
-another Cheating June friend
Admitting you were wrong
So, after we’ve realized we screwed up, we have to tell the one(s) we impacted. It’s easy to try to change and hope you got away with no one noticing or caring, but chances of that are slim and we need to be accountable for our actions anyway. Though you may feel weak in the moment, you will be stronger for it in the long run. Books, studies, religions and experts have detailed best practices of apologizing, but the process is pretty simple. Most people want an apology that is genuine, accepts fault, and promises change so that it won’t happen again.
What we want in an apology:
- The Words: Sometimes saying the words “I’m sorry,” is painful or humbling, but for most people, it is one of the most important things to include in an apology. However saying them alone isn’t usually enough. One man asserted that if you are apologizing, you must have “an articulation of an understanding of exactly what you are apologizing for.” Another said there should be an “acknowledgement of exactly what you’re sorry for.” Being genuine and understanding why you are saying “sorry” is an important requisite for an effective apology. One woman noted what many other people mentioned, “Sometimes I don’t think he understands why he’s saying he’s sorry. He just says it because something is wrong and he wants to get over it.” Take Away: Say I’m sorry and add precisely what you are sorry for.
- The Regret: Across the board, every person interviewed said that they needed someone to have regret in an apology. One man summed up his policy for apology in one word. “Remorse. If an apology lacks remorse or regret for how things are versus how they should have been then it probably isn’t that genuine.” Another person elaborated that someone asking for forgiveness needs to say “I understand how it made you feel. They can say a way that they wish they would have handled something differently and that they learned from it.” Most others said if not the exact words, the same idea. Take Away: Express how badly you feel and how looking back, you wish you had acted differently.
- The Promise: Most people felt that if someone truly were remorseful over a mistake, a promise that it wouldn’t happen again would naturally come through in an apology. The promise to be better is the part where everyone can feel satisfied because you’ve learned your lesson. Now you reassure them that you won’t hurt them again, and you reassure yourself that you’ve grown and will be better because you were wrong. One man’s ideal apology revolves around this last component. He says that along with “I’m sorry” you should include “a commitment that you’ve learned how (certain) actions can hurt people, or that person, and how you intend on changing that behavior moving forward. And lastly, a promise that it won’t happen again.” Others emphasized a “a promise to change,” “a promise that they won’t do it again,” a vow “that they learned from it,” and “a commitment to prevention of future duplicate transgressions.” Take Away: Assure them that you’ve learned, you’re committing to work on it, and that you won’t mess up (at least this way) again.
So though it takes a bit of humility and accountability, we can all be good at apologizing, and hopefully through the process we limit the amount of apologies we need to make. No matter what, we become better because make sure we are responsible for our actions and set a precedent in our relationships for others to do the same. We also let those around us feel appreciated because we care to think of how they are feeling and do something about it.