Sorry I disappeared for a few days, I took a quick little trip to Charleston, South Carolina. If you haven’t been there, it’s worth checking out if you have time. Tons of history. Very friendly people. Good food.
I’m back now, and ready to get you all back up to speed with more awesome, unsolicited advice.
If you’ve been reading the last few posts on how to apologize effectively, you might have screwed up majorly and you’re now looking for some advice on how to fix it. Or maybe you think I’m awesome and have a crush on me
Either is an acceptable reason to read on.
In my last post, I made mention of a common situation:
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.
Inherent in that statement is the reality that when you apologize, you can stack the deck in your favor, but you ultimately want something (forgiveness) that is someone else’s to give – or not give.
You can be ready in every way, but you still need to have the right frame of mind walking into the situation: you are not guaranteed immediate forgiveness. In fact, you’re not guaranteed forgiveness at all.
It’s one thing to understand that intellectually, it’s another to truly internalize it. To touch upon that distinction just a bit, I’ll share something I’ve tried to work on in the last few years. It’s the internalization of following “idea”:
Everyone else is his or her own person, not just an extension of me.
This might seem obvious, but I can almost guarantee you that the vast majority of you are guilty of imputing your own worldview, your own history, your own emotions, your own ___________, to almost every situation in which you find yourself.
You can’t understand why that restaurant wouldn’t have everything ready at 11:00 am (Hint: It’s because we’re all hungover). You can’t fathom why that person would be texting while they are driving. You can’t imagine why the person you wronged wouldn’t see through to your intent and forgive you readily. Surely you would, if you were them.
“If I were you…” “If it were me…” “If they had half a brain, they’d….”
We all “know better” than the people around us. And I’m here to tell you, that mentality is a huge impediment to your potential.
Applying it directly to the matter at hand: as long as you are in a mentality of assuming that the person you wronged should forgive you because you would forgive if you were them, you are severely risking your own chances of gaining forgiveness. Why? Because that assumption keeps you from being truly vulnerable.
An apology is the trading of vulnerability for forgiveness. When you think you know exactly how the other person will or should act, you’re not expressing your openness to whatever outcome happens. You’re trying to dictate the outcome to your own liking.
My take: In order to truly be vulnerable, and therein, to have the greatest possibility of being forgiven for your wrongdoing, you have to be vulnerable – even to the very possibility that you will not be forgiven.
But what about when there’s no legitimate reason not to forgive you and let it go?
Sometimes, after you screw up, you do everything “right” – you say you’re sorry, you’re specific about what you did wrong, you name it. But rather than dealing with a genuine, reflective, open-minded person, you find yourself dealing with someone who uses your mistake against you. She views (subconsciously or consciously) your apology as an augmentation to her power over you…likely because she generally feels a lack of power in relation to you. Your offering of vulnerability is not met with forgiveness. You are dealing with a PAWF: a passive-aggressive withholder of forgiveness.
Ah, the PAWF.
The PAWF needs to be dealt with in exactly the same way as anyone else. You have to lead with empathy and deference. Empathy for them – something has cut their power off from them to the point that they are seizing power from your show of vulnerability. Deference to them – they are human and not an extension of you, and are thus entitled to feel and do whatever they want.
But I would add, when dealing with a PAWF, you should add one more valuable strategy to the mix.
It works like this: knowing that the person to whom you are apologizing is like this, and in the end will almost certainly accept your apology and forgive you, you apologize just like you would for anyone else, with one addition:
I know that what I did hurt you, and you may or may not forgive me for it, and I can’t blame you either way. I just wanted to let you know how sorry I am for it. If you want to talk more, we should…otherwise I’m going to give you some time away from me to consider my apology.
By telling him that you know it’s a real possibility that he may or may not forgive you, and by leaving while he considers your apology, you’re legitimizing his feelings. You’re telling him that he’s entitled to forgive you or not forgive you, and either would be a realistic and acceptable answer.
Further, you’re bouncing out of the situation. This gives him time to switch out of reactionary mode. PAWF’s are conditioned through the reactions they’ve received throughout their lives to default to withholding forgiveness, even when it’s completely illogical. By giving him time to replay the situation over and over, with the knowledge that you think his thought process is a legitimate one, you’re more likely to get his real feelings on the matter instead of his reactionary, power-grab reaction.
Think I’m right? Want to expand on it? Think I suck? I forgive you…if you leave a comment, that is. Follow me on facebook or twitter for updates when I post, and share what you read if you get some value out of it.