Do You Owe Someone An Apology?
Saying “Sorry” is hard for many people to do. It’s even harder for people to actually apologize without defending their reason for the dispute thus rendering the apology a non-apology.
I was sparked to write this post after I reached out to my high school best friend. We were inseparable for many years, even going as far as to get our picture taken together.
At some point, our friendship waned and I went to college and we went our separate ways. I have a million amazing memories with her, but there was a cloud of the mistakes I had made during the friendship. The jealousy that secretly exists between friends, the lies we tell to avoid hurting feelings, the other friends in our lives that can tear at boundaries, the stupid decisions we make in the course of a friendship that leaves hurts behind.
I reached out to her recently for another topic, but in the course of the conversation I felt compelled to say “I’m sorry I wasn’t always the best friend to you and I’m sorry for the times I was awful.” She accepted it and we agreed to focus on the good times and not stupid teenaged-mistakes. I don’t know why I felt compelled to apologize so deeply, but I really did. I felt better. My inner teenaged-child felt better.
There are times in our lives we do mean things, stupid things, emotionally-driven things, that we feel are justified in our own minds. Then time goes on and hurts either heal or get buried. Before social media when you lost touch with someone you genuinely lost touch with someone. Then came MySpace & Facebook and you could re-connect. Generally reconnecting in a good space and not a “Let’s rehash all our mistakes” space.
It bleeds into the work world with every experience we have with someone. Getting a reference rarely happens from the page of references you give. It comes from the three degrees of separation that exists in the local news world. I see it in social media circles all the time. “That person is a terrible reporter/manager/producer” with details.
Here’s the rub – most of the time companies have policies where managers can’t give references, mostly due to legal protection. So I can only say “Yes, that person worked here from XX to XX.”
Behind the scenes, a whole world of referencing happens. I know one person who torpedoed my chances of a job based on a few bad experiences with me. There were GREAT times with this person, and they could never doubt my work ethic or successes, but personally, they only remembered the “bad stuff” and shared it.
In another instance, there was a person who wasn’t good to me. In a competitive world, you can either work with your colleagues or against them. This person challenged me at every corner. I said black, they said white. I wanted to lead with weather, they questioned it non-stop. I would never have given this person a reference.
Then the unexpected happened. This person, out of nowhere, reached out to me and admitted they had been a pain in the neck. They were immature and trying to find a place in the newsroom. They made mistakes they had learned from and wanted to let me know they admired me even though there were bad times. It healed a hole I hadn’t thought about in years.
This applies to you if:
- You make fun of someone’s social media, but then complain when they look at yours and make comments.
- You speak negatively about someone in a reference check, yet get upset when someone doesn’t give you a glowing recommendation.
- You don’t get over someone who “wronged” you, yet expect other people to forgive and move on.
- Your entire impression of someone is based on one or two of their worst moments, yet don’t see your own worst moments as anything but “blips” in an otherwise ideal employee
When we have mistakes in our history, we get the blessing of time to process them. We can look back and see the forest through the trees. Whether we remember with epic clarity why we fought with that person, or if it’s lost in a series of memories that have since followed, what matters is who that person is as a whole.
I’ve seen conversations where some complained that a boss called another boss about the employee who was trying to make a move. It was called “sabotage”. Is it? And when you feel wronged by the “poor feedback” or whatever it is, do you realize you cause the same hurt when you do it?
When you get any kind of feedback, you have to take it with a grain of salt. You have to know, especially as a journalist, there are three sides to a story. One side, the other side, and the truth. If you are able to paint the picture only with the colors you are given, you will see there is a lot missing. Take what is valuable and leave the emotions behind as you make any decision.
How we process wrong going and forgiveness is largely dependent on our personality type more so than the offense itself sometimes. You know by now in my writings I’m a big fan of the Myers-Briggs personality test. It helps us better understand ourselves.
For example, I am an INFJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging). My group is very rare, with just 1% of people who take this test getting this result. My group forgives easily (and puts up with a lot of crap), but when we are done – WE. ARE. DONE.
Here are the groups in the personality types, but don’t just “Grab” one based on who you think you are. Take the test. You’ll be surprised.
Quiet, serious, earn success by thoroughness and dependability. Practical, matter-of-fact, realistic, and responsible. Decide logically what should be done and work toward it steadily, regardless of distractions. Take pleasure in making everything orderly and organized – their work, their home, their life. Value traditions and loyalty.
Quiet, friendly, responsible, and conscientious. Committed and steady in meeting their obligations. Thorough, painstaking, and accurate. Loyal, considerate, notice and remember specifics about people who are important to them, concerned with how others feel. Strive to create an orderly and harmonious environment at work and at home.
Seek meaning and connection in ideas, relationships, and material possessions. Want to understand what motivates people and are insightful about others. Conscientious and committed to their firm values. Develop a clear vision about how best to serve the common good. Organized and decisive in implementing their vision.
Have original minds and great drive for implementing their ideas and achieving their goals. Quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, organize a job and carry it through. Skeptical and independent, have high standards of competence and performance – for themselves and others.
Tolerant and flexible, quiet observers until a problem appears, then act quickly to find workable solutions. Analyze what makes things work and readily get through large amounts of data to isolate the core of practical problems. Interested in cause and effect, organize facts using logical principles, value efficiency.
Quiet, friendly, sensitive, and kind. Enjoy the present moment, what’s going on around them. Like to have their own space and to work within their own time frame. Loyal and committed to their values and to people who are important to them. Dislike disagreements and conflicts, do not force their opinions or values on others.
Idealistic, loyal to their values and to people who are important to them. Want an external life that is congruent with their values. Curious, quick to see possibilities, can be catalysts for implementing ideas. Seek to understand people and to help them fulfill their potential. Adaptable, flexible, and accepting unless a value is threatened.
Seek to develop logical explanations for everything that interests them. Theoretical and abstract, interested more in ideas than in social interaction. Quiet, contained, flexible, and adaptable. Have unusual ability to focus in depth to solve problems in their area of interest. Skeptical, sometimes critical, always analytical.
Flexible and tolerant, they take a pragmatic approach focused on immediate results. Theories and conceptual explanations bore them – they want to act energetically to solve the problem. Focus on the here-and-now, spontaneous, enjoy each moment that they can be active with others. Enjoy material comforts and style. Learn best through doing.
Outgoing, friendly, and accepting. Exuberant lovers of life, people, and material comforts. Enjoy working with others to make things happen. Bring common sense and a realistic approach to their work, and make work fun. Flexible and spontaneous, adapt readily to new people and environments. Learn best by trying a new skill with other people.
Warmly enthusiastic and imaginative. See life as full of possibilities. Make connections between events and information very quickly, and confidently proceed based on the patterns they see. Want a lot of affirmation from others, and readily give appreciation and support. Spontaneous and flexible, often rely on their ability to improvise and their verbal fluency.
Quick, ingenious, stimulating, alert, and outspoken. Resourceful in solving new and challenging problems. Adept at generating conceptual possibilities and then analyzing them strategically. Good at reading other people. Bored by routine, will seldom do the same thing the same way, apt to turn to one new interest after another.
Practical, realistic, matter-of-fact. Decisive, quickly move to implement decisions. Organize projects and people to get things done, focus on getting results in the most efficient way possible. Take care of routine details. Have a clear set of logical standards, systematically follow them and want others to also. Forceful in implementing their plans.
Warmhearted, conscientious, and cooperative. Want harmony in their environment, work with determination to establish it. Like to work with others to complete tasks accurately and on time. Loyal, follow through even in small matters. Notice what others need in their day-by-day lives and try to provide it. Want to be appreciated for who they are and for what they contribute.
Warm, empathetic, responsive, and responsible. Highly attuned to the emotions, needs, and motivations of others. Find potential in everyone, want to help others fulfill their potential. May act as catalysts for individual and group growth. Loyal, responsive to praise and criticism. Sociable, facilitate others in a group, and provide inspiring leadership.
Frank, decisive, assume leadership readily. Quickly see illogical and inefficient procedures and policies, develop and implement comprehensive systems to solve organizational problems. Enjoy long-term planning and goal setting. Usually well informed, well read, enjoy expanding their knowledge and passing it on to others. Forceful in presenting their ideas.
The old saying of “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die” rings so true. Personality types with deep feelings might think about the dispute a lot. The other person might never think of it. If you aren’t going to offer an apology or accept it, just let it go.
THE APOLOGY THAT WILL NEVER COME
I have someone in my life who owes me a LOT of apologies. I’ll never get it. This person died. The death was so complicated already, but to know that I’m waiting for a closure I can’t get is hard. INFJ’s need closure. We need “why’s” in our lives. We need to process through it and accept the end result even if it’s not a good end result.
This is why I feel it’s important to write this. You never know when you won’t be able to GIVE that apology. Clear your conscience from it NOW. If we all apologized to just one person we’ve wrong, big time or small stuff, imagine how much better we will feel as a whole.
Maybe you got fired or dumped out of nowhere. You want to understand. You DESERVE an apology, in your mind. Sometimes legal reasons or pure pride will stop the person from ever seeing past themselves to heal the hurt. You can’t make someone apologize to you. You CAN control how much you let it bother you. You CAN control what you say about that person down the road.
Let’s say you had a bad experience with someone, and then you get a call “Can you tell me about this person?”. Your first urge might be to vent uncontrollably unless you are held by a Non-Disclosure Agreement in the professional world.
Here’s what you can say that doesn’t ruin a person professionally:
- “I didn’t have the best experience with her/him. I don’t think I’m a good source to get the full picture.”
- “I would rather not say anything. It was a while ago I worked with that person and I don’t know what changes have been made in their life.”
- “I can tell you this person did let me down a few times, but overall they were hard-working and tried to do the best with what they had.”
Also, realize how you give feedback of someone does reflect on you. It might show you’ll spill all the secrets to someone you just met online. That could come back to bite you. You might be explaining how you feel wronged and the other person thinks YOU were wrong.
I had someone I didn’t have really a good or bad experience with – there was just never a good connection. The situation didn’t end ideally, but we both acted with as much professionalism and respect as we could. I later found out this person, who could have assigned all kinds of blame on me, was very cool about the situation and took an “it is what it is” stance. I respect that person for that, and it impacts all future feedback I’d give. It also lessened my defenses, allowing me to see the wrong I played in the situation.
I beg you, say “Sorry” if it’s warranted. If someone offers a “Sorry”, accept it. It doesn’t mean you are friends again and all is well, but it will take the nasty taste out of your mouth about that person.
HOW TO APOLOGIZE
Let’s dig into the dos and don’ts of apologies.
I once got an apology along this line, “We should talk about why you are so mad at me. If I thought I did something wrong I would say so.” That is not an apology. That is about them, and not about me. I get to determine if I was hurt by the words. Not by others.
Another time I was in a meeting with colleagues, and an employee had just come back from a long, much-deserved, vacation and a new person was filling in.
I said, “Welcome back! Your fill-in did so great it’s like we didn’t even miss you!”.
I knew INSTANTLY by the look on this person’s face I had offended. They played it off well, but my gut was sick.
I sought that person out as soon as I could and said, “I am so sorry for what I said. I was trying to tell you that we did a great job while you were gone so you didn’t have to worry about things going haywire when you aren’t here, a luxury you didn’t always have, and I ended up making you feel useless. I sincerely apologize for my poor words.”
This person tried to play it off like it wasn’t a big deal, but my INFJ intuition kicked in and I knew I had. They finally admitted “Yeah, I was hurt, but I know you mean well. Thank you for the apology.”
So here’s what you DO NOT do when you apologize:
- “I’m sorry.. but” Don’t “BUT” the apology. You are just plain sorry.
- Own your mistake and explain how you know which part of the situation hurt them.
- Talk about how to fix the problem, if it still exists
- End with something like “I hope you can forgive me.”
- Don’t go telling the world about the apology and breaking it down piece by piece. Just say “He/she apologized and we worked it out” if anyone asks.
Here’s how to prep and give an apology.
- Self-affirm. Apologies can put you on the defensive. It can ruin ego or self-worth. Talk to yourself about how you are a good person with good intentions for the most part, with a margin for human error. You will lessen your defenses.
- Do it in a time and space that is good for you both. Step outside privately with them. Call during the evening when you know they are home. Schedule a time to talk on THEIR calendar.
- Decide if you are going to apologize in person or in writing. I know talking in person about conflict is hard for some people. While all apologies are generally taken best face-to-face, sometimes we don’t have that option.
- Practice your apology to make sure you are not “Sorry not sorry” apologizing.
- Explain why you know the person was hurt, not why you were bad.
We can all be a little better versions of ourselves if we give and receive apologies openly and honestly. Most of all, we can better forgive ourselves for our transgressions.
Accept apologies without holding a grudge. Don’t judge people based on their worst moments. Don’t let one situation define who that person is as a whole. You wouldn’t want someone to do that to you. You are more than your mistakes and you are better when you own up to them.