If you’ve read the first three posts in this series, you’re ahead of the game, but if you haven’t, check out the first one here.
So we’ve talked a lot about how to apologize effectively, but we haven’t discussed why we apologize in the first place.
We apologize because we feel bad, because we want the other person’s love…and often, put simply: because we feel like it’s the right thing to do.
I think there’s one, less obvious reason: we apologize because we’re self-interested, and apologizing benefits us.
That’s not nearly as romantic or lofty, but there’s a lot of truth in any statement that recognizes the inherent self-centeredness in each of us.
You can fight it, and I’d certainly recommend fighting it…but there’s also a ton of value in understanding the world through the lens of reality, and that reality is that every single one of us has an evolutionary bent toward doing what’s best for ourselves, first and foremost. Your default, in the absence of your higher mind, is to do whatever benefits YOU, and leave everyone else to fend for themselves.*
When any two people have “linked outcomes” – i.e. when the things you gotta get done depend on the other person’s input/output, and vice versa – anything that inhibits free-flowing communication has a negative effect on each person. Whether you’re the one who screwed up or you’re the person who got screwed, it doesn’t matter. If either of you is feeling wronged, the sooner you can put that negativity to bed, the better off you’ll both be.
So this makes sense without a lot of explanation for the one who screwed up. If you value the relationship, if having that person happy is preferable to having them pissed, if your self-interest is impacted negatively by that person’s frame of mind, it’s in your own self-interest to seek out forgiveness. The sooner you put this issue to rest, the sooner equilibrium returns. The sooner you deconstruct the wall, the sooner mutual vulnerability returns, and the sooner you’re back to achieving goals (minor or major) together.
What if you’re the one who was wronged? We have an odd lack of directness in our culture, and here’s a great example of where that lack of directness negatively impacts our lives. Confrontation is not negative. Negative confrontation is negative. Confrontation has the potential to be very positive.
Remember – I’m talking here about people with linked outcomes. Your ass is on the line if communication breaks down between the two of you. You can’t afford to just stay upset.
When you’ve been wronged, assuming it’s not something petty and you can’t just shake it off, try this:
- Assume positive intent. Assess behaviors, don’t make judgments. Assume the jerk didn’t mean to be a jerk. Assume, in fact, that he’s not a jerk (judgment), but that he’s actually a nice guy who did something (behavior) inadvertently jerkish.
- Approach quickly and kindly. Don’t let it fester. Find a good time and place (as private as you can).
- Talk about their action and your feelings. “When you said _________, it made me feel __________.” You’re not talking about why they said it. You’re talking about 2 facts they can’t debate: their exact words, and your
But Rickey, what if I do that and the person gets defensive, makes me feel stupid, or punches me in the teeth?
Here’s my two cents:
Most negative feeling in life is the dissonance between your expectations and your reality. It’s your job to make them line up. When the “reality” part is out of your hands, change your expectation. You can’t control what someone else does or feels, but you can manage your own expectations of what that person will do.
In other words – be prepared for a negative reaction as a possibility, but hopeful for a positive reaction, and keep the fact that you’ve got linked outcomes in the front of your mind. Stay pragmatic, and ice your ego.
Okay, that’s it for another session with Dr. Rickey.** More to come soon. Check me out on facebook or twitter and share the post or retweet it if you gain some value from this, I’d really appreciate it!
* Yeah, yeah, I know…notable exceptions for parent/child relationships. Moms will throw themselves in front of a charging bull to protect their kids. Even that is evolutionary, arguably…but its’ certainly less than classic “self-interest” for sure. Thanks, moms, for protecting us all from charging bulls.
** I’m a doctor in the classic sense of Dr. John, Dr. Hook, and Dr. Pepper. I dispense love and smoothness.