What happens when you apologize?

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“Sorry seems to be the hardest word”-Elton John, song of the same name

My day at work SUCKED with a capital S yesterday. The first thing to derail my train was a request from an office that needed two 20+page documents reviewed and approved THAT DAY. And we are talking heavy text, charts, sources, footnotes, you name it. To make matters worse, the office had my initial comments back in NOVEMBER, and chose yesterday to make the request. So I busted my butt going through the documents, getting one approved and the other was shuttled back and forth multiple times between me and the office. In the meantime, something I submitted in DECEMBER to a vendor came back saying they cannot accept my format. So I may have to retype the entire document so I can insert the changes (insert cartoon character with smoke coming out of the ears). Now back to my original office…I sent back a different document to say I needed a copy of their source if they were going to use it verbatim, and instead they call up complaining about the changes I asked them to make. At this point I lost it. Total mind KABOOM. I said I did not have time to discuss this item because I had spent the last several hours reviewing the other items they needed and if they could just send me the FREAKING source document we could resolve it. They agreed to do that. Then they told me they would not be sending back the second item I had been reviewing for about 2 hours because THEY needed more time. WTF?

So after I told this story to my husband and dropped about as many f-bombs as possible (this is not unusual for me, I swear like a sailor), I paused. Where was my zen attitude? What happened to keeping calm in the face of all challenges? Treating others like I would like to be treated? All that shit was gone my friends and I LOST MY EVER-LOVING TEMPER. However, after years of coaching and practicing to do the right thing, I sent that office an email, and it went something like this: 

“Blah, blah, blah (work stuff). I apologize for my short temper – that was not professional. I did not mean to take my frustrations of the day out on you. Thanks for your understanding. If I can do anything else, please let me know.” 

And you know what? Here is the response I got:

“No problem Julie and thanks for your hard work today. We really do appreciate it and believe me D and I know your work is not easy.“

Now how did that make me feel? DAMN GOOD. I considered what that office may have thought of me had I not apologized for my temper. Would they think less of me? Most people know everyone has a bad day, but it still doesn’t excuse taking it out on someone else. They don’t deserve that. I had to make it right. It got me thinking about the benefits of apologizing and wanted to see what I could find out about it.   

I found a great article titled “The Power of Apology” by Beverly Engel (https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200208/the-power-apology).  

As I read, Ms. Engel described the emotional benefits of apology:  

• A person who has been harmed feels emotional healing when he is acknowledged by the wrongdoer.

• When we receive an apology, we no longer perceive the wrongdoer as a personal threat.

• Apology helps us to move past our anger and prevents us from being stuck in the past.

• Apology opens the door to forgiveness by allowing us to have empathy for the wrongdoer.

Who knew? I was intrigued by the last statement, and the article continues:

To forgive, most people need to gain some empathy and compassion for the wrongdoer. This is where apology comes in. When someone apologizes, it is a lot easier to view him or her in a compassionate way. When wrongdoers apologize, we find it easier to forgive them.

This is likely because when someone confesses to and apologizes for hurting us, we are then able to develop a new image of that person. Instead of seeing him through anger and bitterness, the person’s humility and apology cause us to see him as a fallible, vulnerable human being. We see the wrongdoer as more human, more like ourselves and this moves us. 

If an apology encourages empathy, and perhaps even strengthens the community, I am all for it. But apologizing isn’t always easy right? The article concludes with ways to provide a “meaningful apology”: 

A meaningful apology communicates the three R’s: regret, responsibility and remedy.

Regret: statement of regret for having caused the hurt or damage 

While your intention may not have been to cause harm, you recognize that your action or inaction nevertheless did hurt this person. This regret needs to be communicated. This includes an expression of empathy with an acknowledgement of the injustice you caused.

Responsibility: an acceptance of responsibility for your actions

This means not blaming anyone else and not making excuses for what you did. For an apology to be effective it must be clear that you are accepting total responsibility for your action or inaction. Therefore, your apology needs to include a statement of responsibility.

Remedy: a statement of willingness to remedy the situation 

While you can’t undo the past, you can repair the harm you caused. Therefore, a meaningful apology needs to include a statement in which you offer restitution, or a promise to take action so that you will not repeat the behavior

Unless all three of these elements are present, the other person will sense that something is missing in your apology and he or she may feel shortchanged.

I feel like I hit all three in my apology, and maybe that’s why I got such a sincere reply. To me, the benefits of an apology, no matter how difficult, far outweigh the alternatives.   

As one human to another, I know there will be a time when you lose it. Just utterly go bonkers and take your anger/frustration/whatever out on someone who doesn’t deserve it (or maybe they do, which makes it even harder). When the dust settles think of the power of apology and muster up the guts to do it. I think you will agree that the shift in your being is well worth the effort.

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