Monday, March 25, 2013

The Power of Apology

The recent headlines carried a story of President Obama's facilitation of an apology by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu to the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan. The apology was important; it lead Turkey and Israel, two important allies of the United States, to agree to resume the diplomatic relations that had been suspended for a year following Israel's interdiction of a Turkish flagged ship that lead to the death of multiple passengers.  Leaders from around the world have praised Netanyahu for the political courage to make the apology and Erdogan's courage to accept it.

But apology is important to all of us, not just between states at odds.  How many times have you said or have you heard others say: "All I want is an apology!"

Why apologize?
When a co-parenting relationship has been strained by untoward comments or bad behavior, an apology can make things right again. Apologies restore dignity, trust, and a sense of justice. But delivering an effective apology may be more complicated than you realize..and responding constructively to an apology can also be difficult.

Should you always apologize?
In a word, no. Humans have a razor-sharp antennae for insincerity. If you don't feel apologetic, don't apolgize. You will do more harm than good.

What makes an effective apology?
There are four important elements to an effective apology:

  • Acknowledge that one's behavior caused hurt, embarrassment or fear. "I am calling to apologize for the things I said yesterday. My comments were out of line an embarrassed you in front of the children. I hurt you unnecessarily."
  • Express regret. Although saying "I'm sorry" is not enough for a complete apology, it is a necessary part of rebuilding trust.
  • Commit to fixing the problem and not repeating the behaviors.  The apology should include a commitment to improved behavior and better self-restraint. "I've learned a lesson here; I won't bring up stuff when I'm upset. And I will fix this with this kids and let them know I messed up, not you."
  • Explain why the behavior occurred. Explaining why the behavior occurred may help but only if it does not seem to excuse the bad behavior. "I was upset because all my weekend plans fell apart and I took it out on you. I shouldn't have done that."
Responding to an apology
The key to responding to an apology is sincerity. If the apology can be genuinely accepted, a handshake or thank you can complete the repair.

But if you are not ready to accept an apology or to respond in kind, it is helpful to acknowledge the importance of the apology having been made, but indicate that more time is necessary before the apology can be accepted. 

Exchanging apologies
When misunderstandings occur, people often hurt each other. To repair a relationshiip, it is often necessary for people to exchane apologies--each one acknowledging responsibility for ther part and agreeing to avoid such hurtful behaviors in the future. 

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