OK, even those who have been in ministry for a lifetime are still human. We do and say stupid things. We betray and hurt people. Many a church minister has lost his or her job because of the hurt they have caused and not acknowledged with an effective apology. Ministers are in a unique position to model a good apology, primarily because it is so rare in both personal and professional life.
Good apologies are powerful because they build trust and help the hurt party to feel understood and validated. Further, good apologies prevent the formation of personal rifts and destructive barriers.
But a bad apology can often be worse than no apology at all. We’ve all experienced apologies that are no more than a series of excuses and justifications that miss the mark, offend and dismiss the experience all together. And we’ve all been guilty of offering a hasty and half-hearted “I’m sorry” so we can get things back to normal.
Dr. Harriet Lerner, clinical psychologist, and author of Why Won’t You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts takes on the difficult subject of apology and forgiveness and gives us a roadmap to delivering good and heartfelt apologies. According to Dr. Lerner, there are nine essential ingredients of a good apology.
- Does not include the word “but.”
“I’m sorry, but….” This is where we immediately jump to defend ourselves, to justify or excuse our behavior and in the process bypassing a true apology altogether. For a good apology, keep your “but” out of it.
- Keeps the focus on your actions and not on the other person’s response.
“I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry if you were offended.” When we say “I’m sorry” followed by the other person’s feelings or reactions, we aren’t actually apologizing for what we did at all. Instead, we are judging and shaming the person for their reaction. For a good apology, focus on your own behavior.
- Includes an offer of reparation or restitution that fits the situation.
A good apology not only says “I’m sorry” but also includes a repair, such as, “I am taking steps to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” or “I won’t say or do that to you again.”
- Does not overdo.
When an apology is frantically emphasized, or repeated over and over again, the focus turns more to the apologizer, and their absolution, than the hurt party’s experience and feelings.
- Doesn’t get caught up in who’s more to blame or who started it.
This ingredient requires you to apologize for your part in the situation and to apologize for your carelessness.
- Requires that you do your best to avoid a repeat performance.
Apologies don’t mean a thing if the action is not there to back up the words.
- Should not serve to silence.
“I already apologized a dozen times! Get over it already!” This is where we see the apology as an automatic pass to forgiveness, and we don’t want to listen to or acknowledge the hurt we caused. For a good apology, put your defensiveness aside and listen to the hurt party until they say they feel heard and understood.
- Shouldn’t be offered to make you feel better if it risks making the hurt party feel worse.
In some cases, if the transgression is extreme, the hurt party may want little to no contact with you. A good apology respects that and waits for the appropriate time to say “I am here when you are ready to talk. I’ve been reflecting on my behavior, and I want to make it right, and apologize to you fully when you are available.”
- Does not ask the hurt party to do anything, not even forgive.
When we say “Why won’t you forgive me, I’ve said I’m sorry” we are turning the apology into a way to feel better about what we’ve done. A good apology is unconditional and allows the person however long it requires to process their feelings.
Throughout our lifetime, we will be the offender as often as the offended. Lerner’s 9 essential ingredients to a good apology provides a pathway toward forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. All that prevents us is our avoidance of discomfort. As Lerner suggests, “It is not fear that stops you from doing the brave and true thing in your daily life. Rather, the problem is avoidance. You want to feel comfortable so you avoid doing or saying the thing that will evoke fear and other difficult emotions. Avoidance will make you feel less uncomfortable in the short run but, it will never make you feel less afraid.”
Posted on June 6, 2023