Nothing hurts more than needing an apology and not receiving it. There is an art to apologizing, and the best way validates the offended party, does not diminish the offense, expresses true remorse, is respectful. It listens and does not make excuses. It does not attempt to spread the blame, nor try to justify or rationalize the offense. There is a right way, and a wrong way, to give an apology. The right way can bring healing and a new start to a relationship. The wrong way not only doesn’t heal, but can actually make the situation worse.
Here are some pointers to tell the difference between the right way and the wrong way to apologize. I’ve delivered this talk “The Art of the Apology” several times in public places, and each time, people approach me afterward to say they never heard of this and had been doing it wrong and didn’t know why it wasn’t working. It’s easy to mess up!
A true apology reflects regret, contrition, humility, willingness to listen to the offended party, repentance.
Repentance is a turning away from the offense, not justifying it. Allow the offense to stand alone; don’t coat it in excuses, justifications, reasons, or “buts”.
The offender doesn’t get to set the conditions of an apology (such as on your time, at your convenience, at your comfort level, triangulated with your friends pulled in, etc).
How I can I prove I am sorry? What can I do? (action, not words). And then do it.
Tell me how you are feeling. I want to make sure you have the opportunity to express how this made you feel because it’s important.
I am beginning to understand how you feel. What I did must have really hurt you.
I’m listening (and then listen. Do not defend yourself at this time).
Clarify and reflect back.
If you are the offended party, You have a responsibility to clearly and very specifically communicate you are offended and not expect offender to read your mind, guess, or try to figure it all out on their own. This is not the time to pout, behave passive-aggressively, childishly. This is a time for maturity and yes, that can be difficult when you’re very hurt or angry
Take your grievance to the offender privately. Don’t triangulate (pull others in to your side) – especially children. Give the benefit of the doubt; did that person really intentionally set out to offend you or was it a thoughtless, stupid remark? Sometimes people say incredibly stupid things and never actually intended to harm someone else. Are you exaggerating the damage?
Your forgiveness frees not only the offender, but importantly, it frees YOU. You can choose to be a victim or a victor. You can also choose to forgive – regardless if you ever received an apology or not.
Show grace – how many times have you needed forgiveness, whether from God or man? Sometimes people just do stupid, clumsy things. Can you accept that the offense might have been a stupid mistake and the offender realizes it and regrets it and has learned something from it?
If you cannot accept the apology at this time, you don’t have to. Clearly communicate this civilly. There is never a justification for abuse, yelling, name-calling, etc. You do have the right to not accept the apology but do not send a mixed message on this. It is okay to have a boundary where you say you aren’t ready “yet”. The “yet” word is powerful and gives you maneuverability and room and space. The offender needing and being ready to apologize is not an indication you are forced to be ready to accept or discuss it yet.
If the offense is clear, the offender refuses to make restitution, refuses to apologize, refuses to accept responsibility, turns on you, then consider if this relationship is healthy enough for you. It may be about them, not about you, at this point.