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Why Apologizing Is an Act of Responsibility

It happens sometimes that we say the wrong thing at the wrong time, or something inappropriate, or have an attitude that has offended the sensibilities of one or more people. In everyday life, communication errors and misunderstandings are the order of the day. But how do we behave when we realize that something we have said or done has had a negative impact on others? Since childhood, we have been taught to apologize, but it is not always so easy. Apologizing is a powerful act that may seem simple but often it is not.

The meaning of apologizing

Acknowledging that our actions or words have hurt someone requires an act of responsibility. It means admitting that we have made a mistake and that we are willing to do something about it. This act is not only about the other person but also about ourselves. Apologizing allows us to come to terms with our humanity, which also includes the possibility of making mistakes, and leads us to reflect on the consequences of our actions.

But what are apologies really for? I think that they make an important contribution to human relationships. Usually, they have the main purpose of relaxing the spirits. When we admit we were wrong and apologize, we open the door to communication and mutual understanding. Apologies manifest a desire for reconciliation and often help to rid us of the guilt we may feel for our behavior.

Apologies have the power to create a bridge where a river of distance and resentment has been created. However, it is important to note that the size of this river can increase if the apology is delayed in coming or does not resonate with us as authentic.

Difficulty in apologizing

Many people find it difficult to apologize or do not know how to do it in the right way. If we bump into a stranger on the street, we spontaneously apologize but the stronger the bond that binds us to the offended person, the more we feel a certain sense of annoyance. This phenomenon emerges particularly in affective bonds, where emotions can become more intense and swell due to possible situations already tense. When apologies become taboo, the so-called “snowball phenomenon” can occur, in which a  seemingly small conflict grows so large that it becomes a matter of principle. The systematic lack of sincere apologies, expressed in a short time, can fuel the avalanche and therefore the risk that the relationship will be irreparably overwhelmed.

Features of sincere apologies

Some people feel that “sorry” is a magic word to quickly resolve an uncomfortable situation. However, sincere apologies go far beyond a simple word. They are characterized by several key components:

1. Genuine willingness to restore relationship: Sincere apologies come from the genuine willingness to restore a damaged relationship. Regardless of the size of the wrong, the desire for reconciliation is fundamental.

2. Understanding the wrong: Those who apologize must fully understand the wrong committed and demonstrate empathy towards the injured person. It doesn’t matter if we think that, under the same circumstances, we wouldn’t have been offended. What matters is that the quality of the report has been compromised because of our actions. Trying to put yourself in the shoes of the offended person could help us empathize and therefore understand his point of view.

3. Taking responsibility: This is the most important aspect. Sincere apologies imply a full assumption of responsibility, without seeking easy justifications or shifting blame onto others. It is important to avoid the classic “Sorry, though…” or worse, the very common “I’m sorry if you felt offended but…”. These ways of apologizing are not only ineffective but can lead to further friction.

4. Promise of change: A sincere apology is accompanied by an implicit or explicit promise of future change. Those who apologize undertake not to repeat the same behavior. This commitment strengthens the relationship and helps restore trust that has been compromised.

Acceptance of apologies

Finally, it is essential to give people the right to take the time to reflect and decide whether to accept our apology. We must therefore be prepared to consider the possibility that our apologies will not be accepted, especially if they are late, if they are perceived as inauthentic and even more so if the wrong has been significant. In this case we will treasure the experience lived and the opportunity for personal growth that we can seize.

In conclusion, apologizing is an act that can strengthen human bonds. Sincere apologies, based on the willingness to restore the relationship, understanding the wrong, taking responsibility, and promising change, have the power to soothe emotional wounds and build opportunities for understanding. They represent an important assumption of responsibility that leads us to be more aware, to take care of relationships, and, in general, to make the environment in which we live a little more peaceful place.

Thank you for reading this post. You can read more from me on my personal blog crisbiecoach.

16 thoughts on “Why Apologizing Is an Act of Responsibility

  1. Ah, the old foot-in-mouth, egg-on-face routine. I’m pretty good at it, hence I’m fairly well practiced in the art of apologies. It’s never real comfortable to apologize—and that gives me incentive to try not to do anything to have to apologize for. Thanks for a great blog!

    1. I like when you say that you try not to do anything to have to apologize for. I think it’s a very fruitful approach Julia! Thank you for commenting!

  2. This was a powerful post. I loved this line: “Apologies have the power to create a bridge where a river of distance and resentment has been created.” I was reminded of when I didn’t accept an apology from a family member. Our relationship has never recovered fully. But as you said, I felt the injustice was too great.

  3. Great blog , Apologising may not always be easy, but it is a powerful act that can have a positive impact on our relationships and ourselves.

  4. Excellent post, Cristiana. Unfortunately, many hollow apologies stop after step 2, and there is no acceptance of responsibility or willingness to change. In that case, the apology is just empty words.

  5. Sincerity is such an important part of any interaction. Embodying it allows us to build relationships authentically, and hopefully provides us with a good starting point to own up when we do make a mistake – because we all do make mistakes. It is also an important part of receiving an apology respectfully, whether we feel up to accepting it at the time or not as yet.

  6. I thought you touched on a lot of important points, Cristiana. To comment on just one of them: The matter of taking responsibility and committing to change, that is, to not repeating the error or offense. I know from experience how important this is. It is too easy to feel sorry in the moment, yet fail to make meaningful changes in one’s pattern of behavior. And that can turn the apology into a kind of betrayal.

  7. Great post Cristiana! I wish I had been able to read it many years ago. Apologizing has been something I struggled with when I was younger, so I had to learn some of your points the hard way.

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