We all mess up from time to time. Lord knows I’ve pulled some doozies in my day (I’m taking the Fifth here)–and I’ve had a few whammies placed on my plate as well. Ann Landers came up with a holiday for people like me, for people like all of us, who have ever needed to seek or bestow forgiveness. She claimed April 2 as Reconciliation Day; a day to forgive and forget. I guess when your mailbox is deluged daily with people’s pleas for harmony in strained relationships, you decide to start a holiday to address the situation. And what a nice holiday it is. Forgiveness can be a truly liberating experience, as can the flip side of the coin–saying you’re sorry.
According to The Perfect Apology, there is an art and science to saying your sorry. Speaking from personal experience, I know that the jewelery-flowers-dinner “I’m sorry” can say something–but it most often fails to gets to the core of the matter. I’d rather have an intimate heart-to-heart about the situation. (But if it was really bad, I’ll take jewelery too.)
Here are The Perfect Apology’s five ingredients that, when combined, produce the perfect apology:
A detailed account. By giving a detailed account of the offense, you are making sure that both you and the other person are talking about the same thing. It also legitimizes the feelings of the recipient by having the person who caused the offense recount the situation.
Acknowledgement. By acknowledging the hurt or damage done, you are validating their feelings and the recipient begins to sense that you understand the situation. This is important to rebuilding your relationship because it legitimizes their reaction, even if others in the same situation may have reacted differently.
Responsibility and recognition. Taking responsibility and recognizing your role in the situation without offering excuses is important to letting them know that you understand that the event and your actions did cause them harm.
Don’t try to defend yourself or justify the situation or your actions. The apology is all about THEM and how they feel. It doesn’t matter if the actions were intentional or not, the end result is the same and that is what needs to be focused on when learning how to say I’m sorry.
Make a statement. Including a statement of regret such as I “apologize” or “I’m sorry” along with a promise that it won’t happen again are important to rebuilding the relationship and are key ingredients to any apology. After all, there is no value in apologizing for something that you will do again and again.
Ask for forgiveness. Finally, asking for forgiveness at the end of the apology gives the “power” back to the recipient. It tells them, that you have done all that you can do by apologizing and providing whatever form of restitution you can. The next move is up to them.
And my addition to the list: Seal it with a gift of kindness. As mentioned above, the occasional piece of jewelery can’t hurt. But you can make an apology more meaningful by skipping the cliches and doing something creative, specifically something that supports a good cause. Here’s my top “you are so forgiven!” gifts:
• Nothing says you’re sorry like adopting a blue-footed booby in the name of your forgivee! Adopt a booby, or one of 90 other species at WWF. Meerkats work well too, but the blue-footed booby is more poetic.
• Give a Flock of Hope–chicks, ducklings and goslings that will grow up to lay precious eggs that mean hope and increasing health and prosperity for hungry families from the Philippines to Rwanda–from Heifer International.
• Give trees–kind of like an olive branch. Ask for forgiveness by giving a gift of trees to The Nature Conservancy’s campaign to Plant a Billion Trees in the Atlantic Forest in Brazil.