Sunday, May 04, 2008

Apologizing and Meaning It – Some Concrete Suggestions

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been slammed with student reports, term papers and final exams (not to mention working on two books under contract) – the reason for my not being around and posting Posts. To wit, I apologize and henceforth will try to be timelier. During these past two weeks, moreover, on numerous occasions a very close friend of mine has repeatedly not called back when he said he would, has shown up for dinner meetings twenty to twenty-five minutes late, etc., and on every occasion said, “I apologize for…” I gently confronted him today about his pattern of irresponsibleness, and we were able to address the issues and mend any possible effects on our long-term friendship. The experience, however, did give me pause to give some in-depth considerations about “apologizing.”

Fundamentally, an apology is a justification or defense of an act or idea, from the Greek apologia (απολογία). An apology can also be an expression of contrition and remorse for something done wrong. And, interestingly, a non-apology apology is a statement in the form of an apology that is nothing of the sort, a common gambit in politics and public relations. I also want to point out that at times on-apology apologizers may be trying to avoid litigation that might result from an admission of guilt or responsibility

Plato’s Apology is in the widest sense an example of forensic oratory, in which Socrates defends himself in court against his accusers. The Apology is also an important example of a fairly extensive literature designed to defend Socrates against his detractors and to present what his defenders believed to be the real Socrates.

If you find yourself apologizing a lot, pay attention to it – ESPECIALLY IS A PATTERN IS EMERGING. And in such cases, you may want to pause and take a look at your life and how you’re living it (unless you’re an irresponsible person in the first place). However, if you are a responsible person, you genuinely feel remorse for your transaction with someone important to you and you want truly want to apologize, here are some suggestions that will help the other person think and feel that you really mean it:

  1. If possible, say it face-to-face – don’t type it on a computer or say express it via a text message or an e-mail.
  2. Express your apology in the beginning of your conversation: “I am so sorry. . . .” or “I want to apologize for. . . .”
  3. State exactly what you did wrong early: “I shouldn't have lost my temper when. . . . ” or “I have looked all over, but I’m afraid I have lost your book. . . .”
  4. Accept responsibility for what you did and don’t blame the other person: “I accept full responsibility for what happened. . . .” or “I know this was completely my fault. . . .”
  5. Promise in your apology not to repeat your offensive action and ask the injured or hurt party to give you an opportunity to prove this to them.
  6. Suggest that the two of you get together at a restaurant or some other non-threatening place so that you can begin to rebuild or strengthen your relationship.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful. If not, I apologize (LOL).

Question: Has this ever happened to you?



Anonymous said...

I think this has probably happened to everyone at some point in time. It is always a good idea to apologize in person. However, if trying to meet in person will allow too much time to elapse, it is better to go ahead and call or write the person and apologize in that way. Allowing too much time to go by will only magnify to problem and make matters worse. Maybe in the e-mail or during the call you can offer an olive branch and invite the person out for dinner or a drink to make it up to them. Not only does this get you face to face sooner than later, but the ice is already broken by the time you meet.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Maconole,

Thanks for stopping by and, as usual, offering very insightful observations and recommendations. “Time” indeed is a critical factor – allowing bad or hurt feelings to fester only exacerbates the issues. And your suggestion of an olive branch… excellent.

Thanks again!

‘til next time,


Becky said...

Hey Dr. Emener,

Now that the semester is over, it is nice to finally relax. I can relate to this post because I find that the teenagers I work with (and I'm not sure if this generalizes to all teenagers) do not know how to sincerely apologize. I find that when an individual not only says they are sorry but includes for what they are apologizing, it is so much more heartfelt and meaningful.

I also believe that it is even more powerful if the apologetic individual tries to rectify the situation or prevent it from happening in the future. "Please allow me to replace your book" or "If you would trust me again in the future, I will do better to take care of your belongings."

Take care and have a productive but relaxing summer!
-becky balter

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Becky,
I appreciate your visit and offering your experience, albeit at times frustrating.
I tend to believe that many of the teenagers in our society today have an air of entitlement about them (possibly being raised by "soccer moms whose children all were above average and could do no wrong." The epitome of this for me is when someone says, "Yeah, I know I screwed up, but he'll (or she'll) get over it," and demonstrate no genuine sense of remorse for their transgression. Interesting to say the least!
Thanks again for stopping by, and please know I will look forward to future visits down the road.

Anonymous said...

i agree with you maconole . I usually apologies by writing a letter.