Compassion is a great word, but showing compassion is an incredible action. Yet so often, when it comes to showing compassion with an apology, we are more concerned about being right than about the healing of someone we may have hurt. We excuse, justify and defend ourselves, wanting to prove our innocence and our righteousness.
If we carry the “power” in a relationship, then we have a greater responsibility to apologize. We should all be mindful of this power distribution. No one likes to think that power exists in relationships, but it does. A boss has it. A parent has it. The spouse of a hurting partner has it.
Apologies are Not
Apologies are NOT about admitting wrong doing or fault.
And, they definitely aren’t about US!
Apologies ARE about repairing a relationship and doing the right thing.
Validation – people cannot control how they feel. They can only control what they do with their feelings. When people are hurt, they simply want the hurt to stop. They naturally try to protect themselves. When a person is hurt or angry, they may say mean things. Don’t confuse what is going on. Make this only about them hurting and you wanting to help make that hurt stop. If you care about the person and the relationship, think about what the person is feeling and ask them to share with you. They will tell you if you are seeking to understand and not seeking to be right. But, asking them to open up and to be vulnerable only to argue with them, blame them or justify your actions will cause so much more pain and suffering for them. This will cause extreme damage and break trust that will be very hard to get back.
Ownership – once you understand how the person feels, think about your specific actions that may have led to them feeling this way. Again, it doesn’t mean you were wrong, or did anything on purpose. Remember, people can’t control how they feel. But something you did, well intentioned or not, caused the other person harm/hurt. If you care about them, seek to figure out what you did so you can prevent the pain in the future. This is all anyone really wants, to be understood and spared the pain again.
Validation Again – then one more time ask them if what you did (specific and with full ownership) caused them to hurt. Your goal is to get a “yes, that is how I feel and that is what happened that made me feel this way”. Often times, the things we do that hurt others are unintentional and silly. But at the time, it still caused pain. The friend, employee, loved one wants us to know, so it doesn’t happen again. It isn’t about being right. There is no need to argue or to ever state, “I wasn’t trying to…”.
Our intentions are irrelevant. If you get hit in the head with a baseball bat, your head is going to hurt, maybe even bleed and you may suffer a concussion. Do you want someone standing over you telling you that they didn’t mean to hit you, that wasn’t their intention? You should have been wearing a helmet. You walked in the path as they were swinging. Or, do you want someone to get down with you, listen to you, care you are hurting and help you? Of course… we all want someone to show us compassion.
There is no need to argue. If you care, help. And that leads me to…
Restoration – if you care about the relationship, fix it! Again, stop worrying about who is right or wrong. It isn’t about that. It is about someone hurting and wanting the pain to stop. That is all. After you hear, yes – that is how I feel and what you did that hurt me, then fix it. Clearly state how you will restore this relationship. How will you prevent this from happening again and how will you repair the damage. How will you make this right? Showing you hear, accept and care to make things better – is a sure fire way to keep the relationship strong and healthy.
Remember, NO buts in an apology – only butts use the word but in an apology! Awful I know, I had to.
And lastly, if you aren’t sorry – just don’t say the words “I’m sorry”. It does so much more damage. Be authentic with your words.