Why apologizing is so hard (and why it’s so important)
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Years ago, I had a falling out with a friend due to a misunderstanding that was completely my fault. I was afraid to admit that I was wrong, so we didn’t speak for years. Then we bumped into each other and decided to meet for lunch. It was so pleasant that we kept meeting. After two or three meals together, I felt compelled to apologize for my transgression years earlier. Here are some more things guaranteed to make you a better friend.
My experience isn’t unique: Many people avoid apologizing because the idea of admitting to wrongdoing makes them terribly uncomfortable. “We all like to view ourselves as good people—as kind, considerate and moral,” says Ryan Fehr, a professor at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. “Apologies force us to admit to ourselves that we don’t always live up to our own standards. We might also fear that the victim won’t accept our apology, further compromising our positive sense of self. For these reasons, an apology can be very difficult to give.”
For many, apologizing is stressful, awkward and uncomfortable. But a heartfelt apology has positive effects. Research shows that it can improve your mental health, repair damaged relationships and boost self-esteem.
“Apology acts as a signal of one’s moral character,” Fehr says. “It represents a separation of the offender from the offense. The offender is saying: ‘I recognize that what I did was hurtful, but that offense does not represent me as a person.’”
Would you like to apologize but aren’t sure how? Experts offer the following advice.
Build your apology
Tatiana Ayazo /Rd.com
Researchers at Ohio State University have determined that effective apologies have six components: Expressing regret, explaining what went wrong, acknowledging responsibility, declaring repentance, offering to repair the situation and requesting forgiveness. All six aren’t necessary every time. (And if you want your apology to really be sincere, you should say these three things.)
“What we found was: The more of those components that were included, the more likely the apology was seen as credible,” says Roy Lewicki, lead study author. “Acknowledgement of responsibility turned out to be the most important piece, followed by explanation of why it happened and declaration of repentance.”
Other research has shown that expressing regret and acknowledging responsibility are vital.
“Without regret, it’s a justification of your actions,” Fehr says. “Without responsibility, it’s an excuse.”