“I’m sorry” is probably not said enough, and when it is said, it is too often not sincerely offered. Many times it is offered to just shut down the problem or argument, or in a condescending manner.
Yet, it remains one of the most important exchanges between people. If said properly, it is the magic that repairs rifts in relationships and families.
“I’m sorry,” all by itself, has little impact. In order to be effective and repair the damage and hurt feelings, it has to be specified and personalized. In order to be taken seriously, the “I’m sorry” must be attached to two very important facts: It has to specify who was hurt and what the hurtful aspect was.
Here’s an example: “I’m sorry that I upset you by sharing your secret with somebody else.” In this declaration you are not hedging or being defensive. You are using a declarative sentence to point out exactly what you did was wrong. You’re aware and taking responsibility.
Additionally, by specifying “you,” you are removing any confusion or generalization about the action.
When we put those two elements together with the “sorry,” any possible need for argument or defensive actions is minimized.
And here is where you have to be careful not to mess up the good you’ve done so far. Never add a “but” or attempt to minimize your responsibility with excuses. Excuses should never be offered. They dilute the apology and start the hurt all over again.
It is insincere to apologize with, “If I did something that upset you,” or “whatever it was that got you angry” or any other half-way apologies. These words minimize what you’ve done as well as showing disrespect for what they suffered at your hand.
I have been in situations wherein I said or did something that unintentionally hurt someone. Although the intent wasn’t there, the pain is just the same. The apology stays, but it is important to add something like, “Please believe me when I say I did not intend to hurt you. Intent or not, I did hurt you and I am sorry for . . .”
And then follow up. Ask what you might do to repair the damage or make amends. This should be a dialogue. The more the conversation goes back and forth, the better result you will both have in apologizing and being forgiven.
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