Apologizing Can Be Effective If You Know the Steps

 Apologizing Can Be Effective If You Know the Steps

by Kelly Gerling Ph.D., December 1, 2009
Washington Mental Health Examiner
Reprinted from Examiner.com

The original published article at Examiner.com can be found here.

Mental health professionals such as counselors, therapists, and psychologists often deal with people who have been hurt by others, or who have hurt others. This dynamic of pain is normally resolved by counseling others where one side negotiates for forgiveness, and the other side forgives. For all to go well, the one who hurt someone needs to apologize, while the one who was hurt needs to be persuaded to respond favorably to the apology through forgiveness.

While the process of apologizing is normally a private matter in homes and counseling offices, sometimes public figures make mistakes, hurt others, and need to earn forgiveness through apologizing out in public for all to witness.

In January 2009, Portland Mayor Sam Adams publicly apologized for lying to reporters during his campaign about his relationship with an 18 year-old Oregon Legislature intern. He didn’t seem to get the apology quite right however, for an online poll of 3500 people showed that only 19 percent agreed that “Yes, his apology is enough.”

Mayor Adams is not alone as a public figure in failing to apologize effectively enough to earn widespread forgiveness.

Back in the 1990s, President Bill Clinton, a former Rhodes Scholar, could not complete a thorough apology for lying to the American people about his affair with Ms. Lewinski.

In 2006, Pope Benedict attempted to apologize for remarks that offended Muslims worldwide when he gave a speech in Germany equating Islam with violence, while failing to acknowledge that previous Popes advocated violence. He tried to apologize, but failed to do so thoroughly and effectively enough, based on public feedback from Muslims.

If such intelligent individuals, with so much at stake, in such public settings, cannot accomplish designing and delivering an effective apology, it must be a communication process that needs light shed upon it, to reveal how to do it thoroughly.

Here is a brief summary of the process of apologizing thoroughly and effectively:

Definition of Apologizing:  Apologizing is a process of negotiating for and earning forgiveness from someone who feels that your behavior caused them pain.

Seven Apologizing Steps

  1. Recognize Pain—Express recognition of the pain you may have caused others with full empathy for those hurt.
  2. Review Actions—Describe what you did and how these actions caused others pain.
  3. Express Sorrow—Feel genuine sorrow, guilt and remorse for what you did and for the pain you caused. Express that you are sorry. Explain why you are sorry. (If you don’t really feel sorrow, it is crucial to develop your empathy for those you hurt.)
  4. Accept Penalty (If applicable)—Accept reasonable and appropriate penalties that may be required to achieve restitution and/or fulfill the law.
  5. Make A Promise—Promise to do your best not to repeat the behavior that caused the pain.
  6. Ask For Forgiveness—”Will you accept my apology and forgive me?” “How can I earn your forgiveness.”
  7. Keep Promise—Follow up with actions consistent with your promise.

Perhaps by planning an apology with these seven steps, you can do what so many famous, smart public figures have not done—really earn forgiveness from those you may have hurt through a thorough, effective apology.

I have also published this article at http://kellygerling.com and http://kellygerling.net.

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