Apology - How to Deliver a True Apology
By Arthur J. Grossman © 2011

Has anyone ever apologized to you, and it seemed lackluster? Do some apologies sound more like excuses for bad behavior? What is a true apology and why does the quality of an apology matter?

Many attempts to make an apology resemble the following:
  • "I apologize for whatever I might have done."
  • "If you were hurt because of something I did, I am sorry."
  • "I don't know why you are so upset. If I did something, I am sorry."
  • "Sorry if I did something to offend you."

What is the meaning of "apology" and why do many apologies fail?

Ask others to define apology, and you will likely receive a myriad of definitions. The definition of an apology can also vary by culture. Aaron Lazare, in his book, On Apology, states that an apology is "an encounter between two parties in which one party, the offender, acknowledges responsibility for an offense or grievance and expresses regret or remorse to a second party, the aggrieved."

The origin of apology comes from the Greek word apologia meaning a spoken or written defense. The bottom line is that many attempted apologies fail because

1. They do not acknowledge and accept responsibility for the offensive conduct/behavior.
2. They fail to express authentic remorse for the bad conduct/behavior.
3. They fail to offer any ideas to remedy the hurt.

How does one apologize effectively?

Unfortunately, a totally complete answer is more complex than the space I have for this article. In short, an effective apology can be divided into four parts as follows:

1. Offender acknowledges the offense;
2. Offender explains what he/she did;
3. Offender expresses feelings of remorse, humility, or shame;
4. Offender offers to make reparations for his/her actions.

If an attempted apology does not contain the four items listed above, it is probably not a good apology.

Why does a genuine apology matter?

Effective apologies have the power to restore broken relationships, while, a lackluster apology has the power to drive a deeper gap between the offender and the offended. If one is going to make the effort to apologize, it makes sense to craft the apology in a way that it will be well received.

"Apologies, I have learned, are perhaps the only way to heal, or at least to minimize, the harm of humiliations." - Aaron Lazare

An offended person has psychological needs, such as a restoration of his/her dignity and self-respect. When someone feels humiliated by another, he/she can feel lower than human. An effective apology can restore his/her position and help the offended person feel equal again. In other words, it levels the playing field.

An effective apology can be a strong conflict resolution tool. Many times, people who have suffered a harm are merely looking for an explanation of what went wrong, someone to accept responsibility for it, and an offering of some kind to make things right.

So, when you find yourself in conflict with someone, consider whether an effective apology might help restore the relationship. It might be the only thing you need to do to make things right.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Arthur J Grossman is an Orlando Divorce Attorney with the Orlando Florida law firm of Grossman & Grossman P.A. located in Winter Garden. He holds a Master of Laws degree from the #1 ranked dispute resolution program in the United States, The Straus Institute at Pepperdine University School of Law. You can learn more about A.J. Grossman III at the Grossman & Grossman P.A. website. http://www.thegrossmanlawoffice.com
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