Sorry, not sorry.
Cue ‘Please forgive me’ by Bryan Adams, for some dramatic effect.
Have you ever stopped to think, when last did I apologise? (If you can’t recall your last apology, you need to self-reflect, no one is perfect and right all the time. Don’t be a douche.)
We sometimes avoid apologising as it forces us to become vulnerable and we need to own up to the fact that we have indeed made a mistake. We also need to acknowledge that at this stage trying to analyse and reason why we did what we did (or didn’t do) could cause even more damage than just taking the proverbial hit on the chin.
And sometimes we may not necessarily have done something wrong, but what we said was misinterpreted, someone else was in a bad space and didn’t think things through, and that created an uncomfortable space or conflict. If that’s the case you can say something along the lines of, “It sucks that we are here, or that it came to this, and for that I am really sorry, let’s see how we can make it better.”
For a younger version of me, few things spun me into turmoil as much as having to apologise. I remember the agonising seesaw between should or shouldn’t I Apologise; and wondering how it would look if I did or didn’t.
But mostly, I worry about what will happen if I’m sincere and I’m rejected. The possibility of that alone will leave me paralyzed. As you can imagine, some relationships suffered damage. Some could be saved… others didn’t survive. Lessons have been learnt.
Follow your gut and your heart, not your head
If you feel you should apologise, you should. Just do it.
Once you start analysing to the finest detail you’ll convince yourself you are on higher moral ground or talk yourself out of it to avoid further discomfort or the pain of having to face reality.
If you are going to do it to please your conscience or because others expect it from you, rather leave it. The apology will reek of insincerity. If you value the relationship, it should be easy to acknowledge that you have made a misstep.
Get off your high horse
At times our ego blurs the lines between standing our ground and just being stubborn and inflexible. Once we realise this, it’s easier to see when we might have offended or hurt someone. We have a responsibility towards the relationship to apologise. It’s ok to disagree or experience events/conversations differently, it’s however not ok to invalidate another person’s experience of feelings because it differs from ours.
Have a look in the mirror, if you are finding yourself in similar situations, but with different people, it could be that you are not aware of your own blind spots or even the invitations you are sending others to interact with you; resulting in uncalled for conflict or misunderstanding. (If this is happening in your team, see our previous article on psychological contracting for tips on how to create a working environment based on agreed-upon rules of engagement).
Accept and move on
Don’t over-apologise, if you are sincere and acknowledge your own role in the situation that’s enough. Give the receiving party space and time to process. However, don’t go down the rabbit hole of making yourself a punching bag to accommodate the other party. They need to decide if they forgive you or need more time to do so (and that is ok), but don’t just continue an unhealthy process where nothing is resolved.
With time, apologising has become easier. I also came to the conclusion that it’s not about being right or wrong, but rather evaluating “how important is this relationship to me?”