On saying sorry: The apology is not about you
It takes a lot to apologize sometimes, which is strange considering that it usually entails saying “I’m sorry.” However, the ease of just uttering or writing words can devalue an apology. After all, it can sometimes be used without feeling or meaning – like the famous phrase “I love you.”
Does this look familiar?
A: Yes, but that pissed me off.
B: Well, I’m sorry.
A: Why did you do that anyway?!
B: Hey, I said I was sorry. Geez!
When we did something wrong or that offended others when we were younger, we were taught to apologize. That’s not a bad thing, since it’s important to take responsibility for your actions and show remorse. However, the impression given by some is that merely uttering the words is sufficient remedy.
That’s balderdash. Why? Well, there is a difference between a sincere apology and a perfunctory one. This is one reason for some apologies being bypassed by the person affected. If it seems too quick or said in the wrong tone, then it may even have the opposite effect.
Still, have you ever been in a situation where you apologize wholeheartedly and it seems to have no effect? This might seem perplexing to many, especially when you can do little else but apologize. I recall a situation when I was on vacation in Tobago; I told a female acquaintance that I’d rather not hear her singing. I tried not to be rude about it, but that got her really upset. Although I apologized for it, she was upset for the trip home and probably some days after.
The reality is that the apology is not everything, but that does not mean that it is nothing. The person that is upset, hurt or angry just needs to cool down considerably before they can really accept the apology fully.
Think of it this way. Whatever you did or said was a spark that ignited the person’s emotions negatively. They went from 0 to 100 degrees quickly. However, reversing the process is not as instantaneous. It’s easy to think “I apologized, so we should be good now.” If it’s a trifling incident, it may be the case, but sometimes the cooling off period is necessary.
Another reason for the apology not being able to immediately assuage another is that there may be some unresolved issues created by the situation that needs to be addressed. Perhaps the affected person just needs comfort for whatever fears or emotions that the situation stirred up. There needs to be some meaningful dialogue (which many poor communicators wish to avoid) in the aftermath. Perhaps you have done or said things before that affected the person similarly; you may seem like a habitual apologist.
Sometimes, persons apologize so that they would not have to “feel bad” about offending another. They really want to live the issue down quickly. But let me ask you this: Is the apology for you or the other person? Maybe the most important thing to remember about apologizing is that it’s not an automatic pacifier – even if it is heartfelt and sincere.