The lyrics of that old Elton John song seems truer today than ever! Much of the talk this weekend about apologies and the importance and quality of an apology has got me thinking. It seems the quality of one’s apology is, at times, even more important than the magnitude and consequence of the mis-step.
I certainly have been on the receiving end of more than a few disingenuous apologies, and as a professional coach I often hear people question the authenticity of apologies that on the surface may seem like genuine contrition. So what makes for a good, believable and effective apology?
Our Past Experience
It’s a fact for sure that if recent behavior seems to be consistent with what we have experienced in the past or what we know to be true of this individual, we will be less likely to accept their apology as genuine. If their apology is attempt to turn over a new leaf and change a behavior or habit they will have an uphill battle. It’s not impossible, but it will take some time. Most people believe what author Paulo Coelho says that “A mistake repeated more than once is a decision.”
What are you sorry for? Empathy is different than sympathy. Empathy requires that we understand the feelings of the other person. We need not agree or feel the same way but we must understand. Any heartfelt apology should include an expression of exactly what the affront was and an accurate appreciation of the impact it may have had on the other person. Don’t say that you are sorry someone “feels that way”. Maybe it’s just me, but that has always felt like a lack of understanding.
Short and Sweet
When I hear a strong apology, I wait for the end. I need the apologizer to “stick the landing”. Like a gymnast coming off the aerial stunt. Bam! Solid footing, no stumble no step back. Stop talking! Too often we feel the need to explain what we were thinking, why the context of our mistake might make a difference. Reality is, nothing makes a difference until you are able to humbly take responsibility for the impact you have on others. There may be time later to share your side of the story, but without the humble apology you may never have that opportunity.
Perception is Reality
The older I get and more I explore relationships and communication dynamics, the clearer I am about one thing. As author and friend Bob Weyant once told me “It is not our intentions that affect others, it is our behavior”. If we can let go of the need to be right and if we can understand that the truth of any event lies in each person’s individual experience of that event, life will get a lot easier. The burden of proving your point disappears like a cloud of smoke when you accept that whenever others experience you; their experience is 100% real and accurate for them in that moment.
Create a Vision of a Better Future
Commit to do better. Go easy on the “never do it again” stuff. If you are human you will likely do it again, or something equally insensitive. Hopefully, you will try harder and you might care a little more. That you CAN promise! Most people prefer honest humility to empty promises. They want to feel understood and important.
We don’t need educate others or change their mind or convince them of our intentions. We don’t need to point out behaviors that are so much worse than our own to make ourselves feel better.
We need only to; understand how others experience us...decide how we feel about the impact we are having.... and (if it's important to us) promise to find ways to do better.
image credit: Huffington post