Apologies 101: Lesson 3, No one likes your but.

Okay, if you’ve read my last two posts, (a) thank you very much, and (b) I am eager to get your feedback on what you’ve seen so far. Writing a blog is kind of like having a conversation with a wall. I love to hear myself talk, fortunately, but I love having a little banter even more.

So far, in the first and second posts in this series, you’ve read a lot about how to apologize as effectively as you can, namely:

  • Say “I’m sorry” instead of “I apologize”.
  • Be specific with what you’ve done wrong.
  • Express empathy for how you must have made the person you’ve wronged feel.

But you can undo the whole damned thing – and you probably have before – if you do one, simple, innocuous thing:

You can ruin an apology if you hedge.


Original via mylot.com

What’s a hedge? It’s a bush that separates two yards, but that’s not important right now. (By the way, if you want to read a pretty awesome article with the guys who wrote Airplane on the art of comedic timing, check this out).

In relation to what I’m actually talking about, a hedge is anything that separates you from actual accountability for your own responsibility in the matter for which you’re apologizing. It can be as blatant as an excuse, or it can be much more subtle, but the end result is always the same: I’m conveying to you that I’m not actually, totally, 100% to blame for the way I acted or the way you feel about it.

Here’s an example: Bob yells at Sam and Sam is hurt by it. Bob comes to Sam a few hours later and says, “Sam, I am sorry I yelled at you, but you caught me off guard with your consumption of all of my Dr. Peppers, and my blood sugar was low, and the moon is waxing crescent, but I still shouldn’t have yelled.”

Is Bob sorry? Sure.

How sorry? Only as sorry as someone who was caught off guard, whose blood sugar was low, and who is affected by the phases of the moon can be.

Jeez Sam, you’re a real jerk for expecting poor Bob to act any differently than he did, given all of the tribulations he’s going through! But here’s a token apology.

Hedging sucks, and worse than that, it makes your apology less likely to be effective.

Here’s my simple rule, when it comes to hedging: Everything you say after the word “but” just doesn’t count.

When I’m sorry, I’m sorry. My own reasons for screwing up aren’t relevant to your having been wronged. Couple that with Lesson 1 (Say you’re sorry, don’t “apologize”) and Lesson 2 (get specific about why you are sorry, and empathize with the person you wronged), and you’re 90% of the way there.

Tomorrow, I’ll post a few other thoughts on the matter, including:

  • Why anticipating forgiveness can make it harder to get, and
  • What to do when you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t like to forgive.

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