It sounds trivial, but it’s important to know when and when not to apologize. Apologizing too often and too quickly when one is not warranted can weaken your personal brand at work, your “parent brand” with your kids, and even your own self-confidence. Over-apologizing can make you appear weak, and over time it send the message to others that they can walk all over you. Down the line, it can hurt your self-esteem by sub-consciously sending the message to yourself that you mess up a lot.
This may sound extreme, but it’s true. If you think you have a “quick to apologize” complex, try this experiment over the next two weeks: for the first week, count the number of times you apologize; for the second week, pause to reflect on the need for an apology (using the tips below) before saying “I’m sorry” (and count the number of apologies you give that week). Ask yourself how confident you feel after the second week. You may even feel better and stronger knowing that you held your ground when you needed to.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t apologize when one is warranted. Delivering a meaningful apology at the appropriate time can actually improve the perception others have of you (both kids and co-workers) and make you feel better about yourself knowing that you’ve done the right thing.
So how do you know when an apology is warranted or not? Here are three questions to ask yourself before saying the “I’m sorry”:
- Have you actually done something wrong?
- Will you be sincere and are you ready to say it?
- Is the other person ready to hear it?
If the answer is “yes” to all three of the above questions, then an apology is in order.
The first question may be pretty obvious, but it’s one of the most essential questions on that list—it helps you press the pause button. The second question is also important – if you are saying “I’m sorry” just to say the words, then the apology is meaningless and you could lose credibility and respect. The third question requires some additional thought. It may be okay to deliver an apology when a person isn’t ready to hear it if you question whether or not they will ever be ready to hear it. There are some people that have a hard time forgiving. That’s on them, not you. You can still say that you’re sorry, but say it without expecting anything in return. In some cases, the other person will surprise you, and in some cases they won’t. That’s okay. If you think the person will at some point be open to an apologize, perhaps after some time to cool down, then it’s probably best to wait so that you have a higher chance of your apology being received.
When you give an apology, remember these tips:
- Say what you’re apologizing for. I insist on this with my kids. I don’t want them to just toss around the words “I’m sorry”—I want them to convey that they know exactly what they did wrong and are sorry specifically for that. It’s a good practice for adults too.
- Apologize without blame and excuses. This sounds easy and obvious but is hard to practice at times. Adding on why you did something (i.e. I’m sorry but….) weakens the apology, and in the case of blame, undoes it completely. If there was something in your control that could prevent you from doing the wrong again (i.e. getting more sleep; asking for help; not letting things build up, etc.), then take action to control that – doing so will strengthen your apology.
- Keep it short and simple. Don’t torture yourself or the other person by rambling on and on. That weakens the apology. Just get to the point so you both can move on.
- End with silence. When you’re done apologizing, be quiet. Give the other person a chance to respond. The other person’s response can be just as powerful as your apology. Be open to what the other person says, and if s/he chooses to say nothing, accept that, thank him/her for the time, and move on.
You may need to use the “tricky” I’m sorry at times. There are times when you didn’t do anything wrong, but you really are sad to see someone hurting. It’s okay to say “I’m sorry you feel that way” if you’re really sorry that the person is hurting. That’s different than an apology, which is why I call it “tricky.” You are sorry, but not in a way that admits guilt. You’re just conveying sympathy. In these cases, the three questions above don’t apply. Go ahead and say that you’re sorry – and be specific, stating that you’re sorry that the person feels that way.
I hope you’ve gotten something from this blog post. And if you haven’t, well, maybe you will from the next one. No apology needed 🙂