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CHAPTER 12: the best apology possible: ten apology do’s and don’ts

Kador, John Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

One of the key values I have tried to communicate in this book is that apologies need to go all the way. An apology is not a test you study for. You don’t get credit for partial apologies. In fact, a halfhearted apology usually makes the situation even worse. Defending a less-than-wholehearted apology will get you nowhere.

There are unlimited ways to botch an apology, but the vast majority of pitfalls fall into ten common categories. If you keep these ten do’s and don’ts in mind your apologies will be much more effective.

Adding the word “if” or any other conditional modifier to an apology makes it a non-apology.

I certainly apologize if I offended anyone.

If my remarks were out of line, I’m sorry.

If anyone found my remarks offensive, I certainly apologize.

The word “if” is the nastiest qualifier in the context of apology. It always reduces the effectiveness of the apology. The word “if” makes the offense conditional; it says the offense may 204or may not have happened, that it depends more on the sensibilities of the victim than on the responsibility of the apologizer. This is infuriating for the victim, for whom the offense is very real.

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CHAPTER 4: responsibility

Kador, John Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

The key to effective apology is taking responsibility for the consequences of your behavior. The recognition dimension specifies the offenses and violations. The next step establishes that the offender accepts responsibility for them. It lays the moral agency for those offenses squarely and solely at the feet of the offender. What distinguishes the most moving apologies is the integrity that offenders demonstrate when they look deep into their hearts and reckon uncompromisingly with what they find there. In the responsibility dimension there is a focus on making the apology more about the needs of the victim than about redemption for the offender. In fearlessly pushing away all excuses, the apologizer retains undiluted responsibility. Underlying it all is the intention that the offender values the relationship and desires to rebuild it on terms agreeable to the victim.

In crafting an apology, offenders have to take special care to accept full responsibility for their own precise role in what happened. That means fully owning their words, their actions, and their life. They don’t try to blame anyone else; they don’t try to spin. In practical terms, this means saying what you are apologizing for, admitting to it openly, and accepting moral agency for it without trying to minimize it, making excuses, or blaming anyone else. “Apologizing is fundamentally about taking full responsibility for your own role—no more, no less—in what goes on,” blogs Charles Green. “Fully owning your words, 74your actions, your life helps everything fall into place. Blame is gone. Wishing is gone. Whining and tweaking and sliming and spinning are all gone when you take responsibility for your own role—no more, no less—in what goes on.”1

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CHAPTER 10: apology and forgiveness

Kador, John Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Some people think accepting an apology is the same as forgiving the offender. This chapter argues that apology and forgiveness are distinct and should be treated as such. As I indicated in Chapter 9, accepting an apology is a commitment to a particular process. Forgiveness is an entirely different process that ultimately cannot be determined by the presence or absence of an apology. As complicated as apology is, forgiveness is arguably even more so. This book is about apology, not forgiveness, but because the two are inextricably linked, this chapter will describe how they respond to different human needs. I will also touch on the related terms repentance and reconciliation.

I have already defined apology as an acknowledgment of an offense followed by an expression of responsibility, remorse, and restitution, and a promise not to repeat the behavior. It’s an interaction between at least two parties: the offender, who makes him- or herself vulnerable and risks rejection or retaliation, and the victim, who may be unwilling to admit being hurt, reluctant to participate in a conversation, or averse to giving up the grudge. Both parties are required to participate in the dialogue. In contrast, forgiveness is a unilateral process. It’s a process whereby the victim relinquishes grudges, forgoes fantasies of revenge, and surrenders feelings of hatred or resentment directed at the offender. In some cases, the feelings of hatred 172are replaced by attitudes of compassion, generosity, and even love. Forgiveness requires a shift in both heart and mind, an emotional and cognitive leap that is entirely voluntary and independent of the offender. Here’s how British philosopher Joanna North defines forgiveness:

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CHAPTER 3: recognition

Kador, John Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Recognition—acknowledging the offense—is the first dimension of apology. It establishes that an offense requiring apology has been committed. To the offender this step may seem as obvious as the offense itself, and therefore it may be tempting to just get through the apology to “get on with it.” But more often than not, skipping the recognition step results in a statement that just compounds the offense because it leaves the victim uncertain whether the apologizer understands why the victim is so upset. I urge offenders to make the effort to refract their offense through the consciousness of recognition.

It’s not easy. First, it’s hard to put words to the offense, which is what the recognition step demands. It’s not enough for me to apologize by admitting I was a jerk. Recognition requires me to specify exactly how I was a jerk. I’m sorry I didn’t show up at your dinner party after accepting your invitation. That was rude of me. Second, recognition requires that the apologizer mentally exchange places with the victim. To prevent an apology from being completely self-serving, offenders need to be able to have a toehold inside the victim’s point of view. Recognition asks the offender to stand with one foot comfortably inside a carefully circumscribed zone of her own interests while placing another foot squarely outside the zone.

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CHAPTER 6: restitution

Kador, John Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Restitution, the fourth dimension of effective apology, is the practical attempt to restore the relationship to what it was before you broke it. Effective apology is more than just words. For serious breaches, the offender must demonstrate a concrete expression of contrition. In other words, it must have some element of action. That element is restitution.

Restitution should be a critical part of every apology. Without restitution, it becomes more difficult for offended parties to accept an apology, however well crafted. How could they? The relationship remains unbalanced. The offender continues to benefit to the disadvantage of the victim. It is no wonder that victims and judges alike pay careful attention to what an offender actually does in the way of restitution, because restitution is the clearest expression of the offender’s desire to restore the relationship.

Some years ago, an acquaintance I’ll call Rory went through a particularly contentious divorce in which he felt victimized by his ex-wife. For many years he felt so bitter toward her that he refused to take her calls and returned her letters unopened. He continued to hold on to bitterness over what he perceived to be her greed in the settlement. With the passage of time and economic success, enough of the resentment faded for Rory to finally open a letter from his ex-wife. He was surprised to see that it was a letter of apology. He gave me permission to quote from it:

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