Who Forgives?

by | Feb 15, 2012

Most of our mothers taught us that it’s important to apologize if we’ve done something wrong and to politely accept an apology when one is presented. Erving Goffman, a sociologist, defines a complete apology as including: the “expression of embarrassment or chagrin; clarification that one knows what conduct has been expected and sympathizes with the application of negative sanction; verbal rejection, repudiation, and disavowal of the wrong way of behaving along with vilification of the self that so behaved.” In English we often say, “I\’m sorry, I was wrong. It won\’t happen again.”

Successful apologies incorporate humility for oneself and consideration for the other\’s feelings. Apologizing is another way to say, “Regarding your feelings, I recognize
1. that I have done something wrong, OR
2. that you are distressed and I wish you weren’t.”

People who apologize most of the time make themselves seem excessively submissive. They are pleasers and want to win the favor of others. They define themselves as holding the bottom rungs of the social ladder, and they are saying that they should be pitied. Maybe they don\’t realize that apologizing all of the time projects weakness. No one will get very far in this world if every other word out of their mouth is “Sorry.”

On the other hand, people who never apologize seem to tell the world that they never make mistakes, which we know isn\’t the case. There is a happy medium.

A Few Tips For Making Effective Apologies:

  • Know what you\’re apologizing for. If you don\’t know, ask.
  • Demonstrate true repentance. Don’t say: “I’m sorry you are hurt,” which implies the person you\’re talking to is responsible. Try: “I am sorry I hurt you” in which you take responsibility for your actions.
  • Don’t be defensive, and omit the word “but” from your apology.
  • It definitely helps to say that you will try not to make the same mistake again, and mean it.
  • Don’t bring up past infractions.
  • Employ humor. But be careful with this; you don\’t want to come off as making light of your remorse.
  • Don’t wait for a better time. An imperfect apology is better than no apology.


Men vs. Women with Apologies

Men have a tendency to apologize some of the time while women tend to apologize more frequently than men. It follows that women apologize too much, and men, not enough. In reality, men are just as willing to apologize if they feel they\’re wrong; however they have a different idea of what “wrong” means. Men and women also have different thresholds for what they find offensive and necessitates an apology.

Be Sincere

Apology is, by definition, the admission of personal wrong-doing. It takes complete responsibility for one\’s actions. Sincere apologies are never accompanied by explanations of why a mistake was made. By trying to excuse or rationalize your mistake, you are denying full accountability for it.

When you apologize you are promising to correct your behavior; if you apologize and continue to make the same errors, your apology becomes unbelievable.

Researchers have found that people average about four apologies per week. But, interestingly, these apologies are made more often to strangers (22%) than to family members (7%) or significant others (11%). Friends are only people we know that we apologize to more (46%). Thus, other than friends, who might terminate a less contrite relationship, the adage “Familiarity breeds contempt” remains true.

Apologies are powerful tools and should be used sparingly, but always sincerely. They can reunite estranged loved ones; bring couples back together; provide comfort and relief after a disagreement or misunderstanding. Apologies can sometimes even end wars (literally or figuratively). Watch out that you\’re not overusing an apology so the next time you need to apology it really counts.


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