An apology works wonders

Dealing with mistakes with grace can make a huge difference

Updated - December 04, 2017 04:24 pm IST

Published - December 03, 2017 05:00 pm IST

Businessman hands holding sorry sign vector

Businessman hands holding sorry sign vector

You forget your best friend’s birthday. Or, you show up an hour late for a dinner with your colleagues. You submit your project a day after the deadline. You borrow your mother’s favourite necklace, only to find that you have lost the pendant. You let your whole team down as you have not sent out invitations for an event on time.

This list could go on. Yes, we are all fallible and prone to slipping up every now and then. Even the most organised and diligent person will goof up once in a while. As mistakes are an endemic part of life, dealing with them with grace and candour can make a huge difference to how our blunders affect our relationships with people. Owning up to our errors is the first step towards developing civil and courteous communication. Being defensive, or worse, denying our misdeeds, is akin to wearing blinders; in the long term, this can leave us groping in the dark about what actually went wrong. However, in order to truly deepen and sustain a relationship, be it with our colleagues, peers or relatives, we must master the art of apologising.

Timing it right

In an article in The Atlantic , writer Jacoba Urist cites the work of psychologists who advise that timing is crucial in delivering an apology. For major transgressions, it’s better to wait until the offended party has had time to process the hurt and vented their anger at you. If you say sorry too early, you may deprive the person of working through their tumultuous emotions. On the other hand, saying sorry after a protracted delay may indicate apathy instead of your being contrite. Of course, the right timing will vary according to circumstances, but it is something for you to keep in mind.

In Ohio State News , Jeff Grabmeier describes the work of management professor Roy Lewicki who studied the effectiveness of apologies. According to Lewicki, there are six key ingredients to saying sorry. Besides expressing regret and explaining what went wrong, the offender has to take responsibility for his or her mistake. Furthermore, the transgressor may repent, offer to make amends, and finally ask for forgiveness. While the most effectual apologies contain all the six components, the most important elements are acknowledging your fault and offering to make amends. The latter indicates that you are not engaging in empty talk but are actually concerned about setting things right.

Also, in today’s digital age, there are umpteen ways of saying sorry. From sending an SMS to a Facebook post, making a call or shooting an email, we have myriad screens to hide behind, while apologising. While digital apologies may be fine for minor misdemeanours, apologising in person is what cements a fractured link with another human being. MIT Professor Sherry Turkle writes in her book Reclaiming Conversation that apologising can indeed be an unpleasant or uncomfortable experience as we have to contend with the offended person’s anger or grief. However, she argues that it is “this realisation that triggers the beginning of forgiveness.” We have to be willing to undergo discomfiture if we are truly penitent. When we say sorry through a text message, we are short changing the person whom we have wronged, as neither party can witness the other’s emotions unfold in real time.

In a blog published in Huffington Post , ethicist, Bruce Weinstein, reminds us that “a meaningful apology is a sign of integrity, not weakness.” So, don’t shy away from accepting, acknowledging and apologising for your misdeeds, whether slight or grave.

The author is Director, PRAYATNA.

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