The Most Powerful Way To Apologize

Have you ever noticed that when someone apologizes, your typical automatic response is, “Oh, that’s okay” ?

It’s actually a bit silly, right? Language is powerful, and it reveals something crucial here about apology.

When you apologize, you inadvertently make the other person say “that’s okay.” They have to tend to you, when you’re the one who has impacted them.

Instead of apologizing, when you make a mess or break a promise, clean up the mess:

1. Acknowledge the mess or broken promise.

ex: “We agreed to meet at 5pm, and I’m 30 minutes late.”

2. Feel the impact — ask what it’s like for the other person, and acknowledge the impact on yourself as well.

ex: “I imagine you feel pretty disrespected, or like I don’t value your time. And the impact on me is that I feel really embarrassed, and that you may be less likely to rely on me in the future. Is there any other impact on you that I’m missing?”

And once you’ve heard the impact for them,

“Thank you for sharing that, I hear you. I really get that when I’m late, it makes you question how important you are to me. I don’t want that!”

3. Ask what you need to do to restore it or clean it up.

ex: “I promise to be on time from now on, or if I’m going to be late, I’ll let you know ASAP. Does that work for you? Is there anything else I can do to clean this up?”

In the case that you may keep breaking this particular promise, you could directly name it:

“Unfortunately, due to the nature of my job, there will always be a chance that I could be late at this time of day. I want to be up front, so that I don’t keep promising something that you won’t be able to depend on.”

Because really, integrity is about doing what you said you would, or doing what’s expected of you. If you know someone is expecting you at a particular time, that’s as good as agreeing to meet at that time. So if there’s an unmeetable expectation, name it.

And replacing apology with “cleaning up” really is about replacing apology with integrity.

So, next step…

4. Take the action(s) that will have it be restored.

ex: Continue to be on time to build back that person’s trust. (Or other agreed upon solution.)

5. If you feel apologizing still suits the intention of what you’re saying, then apologize. But don’t have the apology replace really cleaning it up.

In the case that you get in the habit of cleaning up, and then repeating the action that you have to clean up, those around you will learn to not take your word, or trust what you say. Your word becomes useless. By replacing apology with cleaning up, you start to learn how seriously you take your word — and how seriously others can rely on it.

Some people may read this and think, “No way,” or “It’s the other person’s fault,” or some other very human response. While this is “normal,” it’s not powerful.

I dare you to start cleaning up your messes. ????

Practice, practice, practice!

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