Excuse me? Was that an apology?
[I do some of my best thinking in the smallest room of our home. Things I need to let go of usually come out the other end]
I’ve been thinking about apologies. Like a good computer addict, I Googled “types of apologies” out of curiosity. I have been wondering about why I sometimes apologize when “excuse me” is more accurate. At the top of the Google search it said “3,330,000 results.” OK, I am not reading through ALL of that!— sorry.
This must be an important topic with so much available about apologies on the internet. Glancing through the results, I notice that some indicate that there are four types of apologies and others say there are seven types. So, I started to read some of them.
One of the “types” of apologies I came across, in my opinion, is worse than no apology. I’m calling it the “I’m sorry (NOT)” apology. When people say to me “I’m sorry you feel that way”, it can feel like a polite response they have learned rather than a sincere apology. Another phrase that rubs me the wrong way is, “if I have offended you, then I am sorry.” “IF!?!” Hmmmmm… readers, you are right. I am on a bit of a soap box!
I really value someone’s honesty over a polite apology. If we can work the ‘issue’ out, who really needs the apology any way? I am reading the book The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. It came out awhile ago. He was the Carnegie Mellon professor dying of pancreatic cancer who gave a last lecture (they are recorded) as a way to have a connection and be a ‘Dad’ to his kids.
Great book! It has a nice little chapter on apologies (page 161 if you have the book). If you don’t have the book you can read a summary of his thoughts online. Obviously this book got me to thinking about ways to say you’re sorry.
The Four Types of Apologies
Eventually, I settled on this website and article by Tammy Lenski and her explanation of four types of apologies:
1. I’m sorry. I’m at fault. This one’s the big kahuna, the apology that’s usually the most difficult to give and the one that makes us feel most vulnerable. It’s the kind of apology associated with an action that had tragic or predictable consequences.
2. I’m sorry. I regret it. This is the type of apology I [Tammy] frequently hear requested in my mediation work, and it’s often mistaken for the “I’m at fault” type. People requesting this type of apology are asking the other person to acknowledge the impact of a word or deed, even when that impact wasn’t intended and may have had benign intent. Examples of regret apologies include, “I’m so sorry my actions had that impact on you. I didn’t understand that until now and I regret that.” This is the kind of apology the person in the first paragraph was seeking; she wanted acknowledgment that this had been a time-consuming and frustrating experience for her (though, of course, that’s not quite how she initially said it).
3. I’m sorry. I sympathize. This type of apology shows compassion, understanding, sympathy or empathy for a situation. “I’m so sorry to hear of your mother’s illness.”
4. I’m sorry. But not really. This, like the apology offered in type #1, is an insincere attempt. This type can escalate the situation further because the receiver understands it’s not a real apology. “I’m sorry you feel that way” is this kind of ineffective apology.
So, now I am thinking there must be “rules” for apologizing. Guess what: I Googled How to Apologize and 11,600,00 results pop up! Wow, people must really be nervous about/stink at apologies! Don’t worry—I am not going to list out the rules here. If you are interested, you can read about how men and women relate differently and the rules of how to do apologize at Psychology Today’s website.
Where does all this information leave us? Well, for me, it is not that complicated. You have to mean it and you have to take action. I am a self-employed graphic designer. I make mistakes. When a client is upset, sincerity and action are so much more important than all the rules of how to apologize. Letting them know how bad I feel and that they are very important to me AND asking or suggesting how I can correct things is the only way to go.
Well, you know what I have been thinking about in the smallest room of our home—what do you think about in that room?
Feel free to share your stories and of course give me a difficult time!