This is my new expression whenever I hear someone close to me offer a pseudo-apology. Readers who have kept an eye on this blog lately know I have posted instructions on the correct—and incorrect—ways to apologize. Not to throw anyone under the bus, lately I have heard quite a few apologies that, candidly, miss the mark.
To recap the basics, “Robbing that bank was wrong,” expresses regret for my actions. “I sure am sorry I got caught robbing that bank,” expresses regret for the consequences of my actions but no regret for my actual actions. Other consequence statements are:
I’m sorry you feel that way.
I’m sorry you misunderstood me.
I’m sorry you took it that way.
I’m sorry you got frustrated.
See the difference? All this regret is about what YOU did, not about what I did. It says, “This situation went south on your side of the street. My side of the street is looking pretty good over here.” A genuine apology requires taking responsibility for what I chose to do or to say. Expressing sadness or regret for another’s response is nothing more than deflection thinly disguised as an apology. It is not a legitimate apology.
Now let’s throw in a curve ball for extra credit. Are either of these statements a legitimate apology?
I’m sorry my words frustrated you.
I’m sorry my actions hurt your feelings.
Nice try, but these examples STILL express regret for consequences. Just throwing “my words” or “my actions” into the sentence does not constitute taking responsibility for the wrongness of my words or actions. That would look more like this:
I said something I shouldn’t have said.
I didn’t intend harm, but I see now I caused it and I regret what I did.
Now for advanced placement apology, what should you do if you actually believe you did absolutely nothing wrong? Let’s say you are convinced your side of the street is spic-and-span, and the person who is upset with you is overreacting or is reacting to something other than what you actually did. I always say when in doubt, go with the truth. Acknowledge the person’s feelings and ask for their help to see their side. Something like this:
I see you’re upset. That’s distressing because I care about you. Will you help me understand exactly what I did?
I hope you don’t get, “It’s your tone of voice,” or “You flashed that look,” because subjective observations aren’t terribly actionable. I hope you get an answer that is truly illuminating, and you should be prepared to receive (i.e. don’t block) those rays of illumination shining your way. You might, however, get an answer you don’t understand. You may have to ask questions to grasp exactly what sparked the response. You might also sense the person is responding to something you didn’t actually do or say. Sometimes a harmless comment triggers a harmful memory. Can you find a gentle and compassionate way to ask the person if there is an older, deeper wound swirling into the present angst? Draw on your spiritual strength and compassion to turn conflict into an opportunity to encourage healing and intimacy.
If, failing all of this, you can’t rise above the blame game and remain convinced of your blamelessness, ask for time to think before further discussion. A little distance can change your and the other’s perspectives.
Join the conversation. Can you share examples of an apology gone wrong?
Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.