Archive for the ‘ Being vulnerable ’ Category


During my years of coaching I discovered that many people don’t know how to make a genuine and effective apology. Somehow, what we learned in kindergarten didn’t travel with us to the boardroom.

Apologies are not EASY, but they don’t have to be so desperate either. They are the stitches that heal relationship wounds. If you stitch well, you hardly notice a scar. If you stitch poorly, or fail to stitch at all, you are left with deep and ugly scars that sometimes fail to heal. Knowing how to apologize is a necessity for maintaining healthy relationships.

So, here are some rules to help guide you in apology-EASE!

Rule 1: Apologize only when you are truly sorry.

Being truly sorry is when you feel genuine regret or remorse for harm you have caused. If you don’t feel regret or remorse, do something else, anything else, other than a pseudo apology. The false apology causes additional damage to the relationship and is often more harmful than the original injury.

How many apologies do you make a day – on average? My tardiness requires me to make more apologies than I would like, until recently. Sadly, this change is not the result of increased timeliness on my part. In truth, it’s because I’m not that sorry about being late. I’m more grateful for the other person’s patience than I am sorry about the inconvenience I caused. So I stopped apologizing and started “gratefulizing”.

Rule 2: Know what you are sorry about.

I read a blog post about not using the phrase, “I’m sorry if . . .” If you did something you believed caused harm, then there is no “if” to it. Own your behavior and the result you believe it caused.

Naming the behavior and the harm it caused are key components to an apology. It’s not enough to simply say, “I’m sorry.” In order for an apology to have a chance at healing the relationship, the injured person must believe that you know what you did and how it was hurtful.

Be direct and to the point. State what you did and the injury you believe you caused as simply as possible. “I rejected your ideas by dismissing them so quickly in the meeting. I failed to honor you and your ideas.” When you are apologizing, less is better – but you need enough to ensure the injured party knows you “get it”.

Rule 3: The apology is a gift – expect nothing in return.

Healing words are merely gifts. The recipient does not need to respond in anyway and has the right to reject them or receive them. Forgiveness is also a gift, but it is not linked in any way to an apology.

When I was ten years old I accidentally broke off a piece of my Dad’s “Nova” decal. I went in to show my Mom and told her I was sorry. She laid into me for being irresponsible and I threw the broken piece across the garage and yelled, “I said I was sorry!” I figured I had earned forgiveness because I had apologized. There is no quid pro quo in apologizing.

This is probably the most difficult part of the apology. Once you have stated what you did and expressed true regret for the harm you caused, step back and accept whatever response, including rejection and anger, that comes your way. You have done what you can to repair the damage and it is now up to the other person to decide what he/she wants to do with the gift. Forgiveness may come immediately, in 24 hours, in a week . . . or never.

Rule 4: Have the intention to not cause similar harm again.

None of us have perfect actions, but we can have honest intentions. Part of regret or remorse is having the desire to never cause that kind of harm again. What are you going to do differently, so that you stop acting in a way that causes injury? For example, if you do cut people off in meetings, communicating a lack of respect or de-valuing the other person, what are you going to do differently so you stop this bad behavior?

The more the injured person believes you are making changes in your behavior to keep him/her safe, the more likely your apology will heal the relationship. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to be trustworthy that you are headed in the right direction.

Rule 5: Leave out explanations.

Do not try to explain why what you did was not so bad. Explanations sound like excuses and excuses reek of defensiveness. Own your behavior. The offended person may ask you for an explanation. In that case explain yourself, but never lead an apology with an explanation.

Use the “but-less” apology. “I’m sorry I . . .” as opposed to “I’m sorry, but . . .” Once the “but” word leaves your mouth, you’ve unleashed a hornet’s nest of trouble in the relationship. The injured person wants to know you understand the harm you’ve caused, not hear a litany of reasons why you did what you did.

Rule 6: Be vulnerable.

Apologizing, by its very nature, is a vulnerable act. You behaved badly, or you were wrong and you are admitting your mistake or bad behavior. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to be exposed in that way – as someone who is imperfect. We spend a good portion of our lives trying to appear in control and competent. Exposing ourselves as imperfect beings is an exercise in vulnerability.

Being vulnerable means being open to the uncertainty of the future and accepting whatever outcome happens. When I justify my behavior, I try to rig the outcome in my favor, by getting the injured person to see that I’m not such a bad person after all. When I am vulnerable, I acknowledge that the injured person has the right to forgive me, hate me or ignore me. I realize that I am not in control of anything or anyone, except my own actions.

This might be more than you ever wanted to hear about apologies but take these six rules to heart the next time you’ve caused harm and you are looking for the best way to heal an important business or personal relationship.

Written by Clare Coonan, LCSW

Clare is a Senior Consultant and one of the founding partners at Five Degrees Consulting. Connect with her on Twitter, LinkedIn, or leave a comment below.

This is a blog we share  between several of the Consultants at Five Degrees, guest authors and colleagues.  We work with companies large and small on People and Organization strategies.  Our work specializes in organizational development, leadership effectiveness and executive development. With a focus on working with leaders at all levels to create an intentional corporate culture, we help organizations increase employee engagement, energize working teams, develop critical leadership competencies and enhance strategic communications for more information about our services, please connect with us.




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