A Few Thoughts About Apology
(A Short Talk For Toastmasters)
Over the years, I have mediated various types of conflicts. There is one thing that is common to all types of mediations that I have conducted whether the issues involve trees, real estate, divorce or other matters. Frequently, a simple “I’m sorry.” is enough to bring parties together in a resolution of their conflict.
In this talk, I will explore a few thoughts about apology focused on the words “I’m sorry”, the contraction “but”, and the concept of accepting responsibility.
1. Let’s begin with the words I’m sorry.
I’m sorry can go a long way to repair a strained relationship. However, is it enough to simply say “I’m sorry?” Sometimes.
Let’s consider two examples of apologies.
1. The first is simply, “I’m sorry.”
2. The second is: “I’m sorry that I yelled at you and hurt you. I was unkind and thinking only of myself.
The first example may be enough if the speaker’s body language and tone of voice express regret. However, often the speaker is mouthing the words, I’m sorry, to avoid conflict not to resolve it. He is not concerned about any effect his action had on the other party. It is an empty apology.
The second example is explicitly expressive of regret, and will be much more powerful if delivered with a body language and tone of voice that expresses remorse.
Putting together explicit language and appropriate non-verbal elements (such as body language and tone of voice) can make the words, I’m sorry, explode with meaning.
2. Speaking of meaning, “but” is a word that can destroy meaning. When we use the contraction, but, we run the risk of nullifying the phrase that comes before it.
But is a powerful three-letter word. An apology with a but is not really an apology is it?
Let me give you an example. I’m sorry I yelled at you, but you make me so frustrated with your whining and complaining.
In this example, the speaker makes an empty apology and attempts to blame the receiving party for the wrong. The person who is wronged is robbed of an apology and is hurt once again by the insincerity of the excuse.
3. We have taken a look at how “I’m sorry” and “but” relate to apology. Now let’s consider how accepting responsibility can affect apology.
To do this, here is another example of an apology. I’m sorry that I yelled at you, I was wrong to blame you for the late delivery. I was only thinking of how it was going to affect me, and took out my frustration on you.
In this example, the speaker is accepting responsibility for her actions. There is no qualification or justification just a simple apology.
What makes this apology so powerful in its simplicity is the phrase, “I was wrong…” Arguably, the words, “I was wrong” are the ultimate in accepting responsibility and beginning to make amends for a wrongful act.
On that positive note, I would like to close with an English Proverb: “Anger is often more harmful than the injury that caused it.” (The quote is from “The Power Of Apology” by Beverly Engel.)