The beauty of apologising

By Cara Waudby Tolley | May 16, 2022

Caroline Kelly discovers that saying sorry may not be easy, but doing so can reap considerable relationship rewards.

When was the last time you felt the sting of an angry word or felt that rising feeling of rage, knowing that you had been wronged? These responses are uncomfortable and understandable, yes, but still they leave a lasting mark; especially when you know that you were in the right.

And what could make it all better? An apology. One word delivered genuinely and with the intent of putting right the wrongs you’ve suffered. And yet this small but powerful word feels almost elusive. For such a short phrase, it seems remarkably hard to say.

Coach and Neurolinguistic Programming Practitioner Rebecca Lockwood has a good idea why that is. She said: “Sometimes it can be difficult to admit to ourselves that we have made a mistake or need to apologise about something, let alone admit it to anyone else. We are conditioned in society to believe that if we make mistakes we have done something wrong and this is just not the case. It is also common that people think if they apologise for something they are seen as weak. This couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Collateral damage

Equating a mistake with being negligent or wrongful is a key factor. Mistakes happen and no one goes out of their way to make them on purpose. Yes, people get hurt but knowing the motivation was not deliberate is very different to someone being purposefully cruel or hurtful. It can go some way into the healing process when you recognise that you were more collateral damage than intended target.

However, whether it is carelessness or cruelty, apologising is a two-way street back to wholeness.

The person wronged feels validated and heard when a perpetrator says sorry for their actions or words. But, when you are the apologist, the healing process is equally as valid. Simply put: saying sorry makes you feel better. It moves the situation or relationship forward and allows you to start putting your mistake behind you.

Mean what you say

That doesn’t mean you should ever offer a half-hearted or sarcastic apology. You might genuinely not always understand the depth of pain the other person is feeling. Saying sorry for what you do recognise is your fault can often be enough. Avoid too those “I’m sorry you feel hurt/ angry/sad” apologies that place the responsibility at the feet of the person you’ve wronged. It never goes well.

Instead, accept apologising as an opportunity to grow. Rebecca continues: “When we make mistakes and acknowledge them we learn, we grow and we develop. It gives us the opportunity to change our minds, to do something different and get unstuck in a situation. When we openly admit this and apologise to someone it gives us the ability to let it go and accept that it’s just the way it is. We can move our insecurities out of the way to move forward in our lives personally and in relationships.”

Better communication

If saying sorry is such a healing process, how can we make sure we go about it the right way? Here are some of Rebecca’s top tips:

“Listening out for the way people communicate best is helpful when giving an apology, as this will help them to receive it best. This is the difference between if someone is visual (prefers seeing things), auditory (prefers hearing things) or kinesthetic (prefers feeling things). Knowing this will help you to communicate better.

“For those who are auditory, saying the words might be enough. For visual people, something like a letter might be a good option. For those kinesthetics, you might need to reach out with something physical, like a hug, to show you are really sorry.”

The best version of you

It’s clear that when you need to say sorry, how you deliver it is crucial. To get it right you must remember that it’s not always about you. Rebecca recommends asking yourself this question: What would the very best version of me do in this situation?

A powerful, simple question that gives you the time to pause and think. It allows you to start seeing things
from another’s perspective and understanding your role in their thoughts and feelings.

Finally, it’s this ability to see situations from differing perspectives that is the key to unlocking compassion and empathy. Start with your own feelings and thoughts about the situation, before putting yourself in the other person’s position and imagining how they think and feel.

You can then take a few more moments to start imagining the thoughts and feelings of a disassociated third party, someone who is neutral to the situation.

This fascinating exercise, combined with all of Rebecca’s other tips, will help drive you towards resolution and, with a bit of luck as well, the restoration of broken relationships. Sorry may well be only made up of five letters, but the power of this word should never be underestimated. Use it wisely.

About the author

Caroline Kelly is a journalist and copywriter who loves writing and running. Obsessed with storytelling, she writes for print and online.