What’s your apology language?
BY JEN OLENICZAK
Apologies are harder than they look. How often have you – or someone else – said, “I’m sorry you feel like that” in efforts to “apologize”? Spoiler alert: if this is you, this is not an apology.
While many of you might be reacting in a clear “duh” about this apology-lacking apology, how many of you have given thought to HOW you apologize? And even deeper, to your apology language?
While I knew about the different languages of love – and adhere to the idea that we use our love languages at work just as much as we do in relationships, Gary Chapman’s book The Five Languages of Apology got me thinking about how I communicate my apologetic emotions and what “language” I’m speaking. Knowledge is power in communication, so read on to learn more and continue to elevate your apology language:
Regret is feeling sad or distress over something you said or did. If you feel like you have to tell someone “I feel bad that I (did this action)”, you probably use an expression of regret to show that you are sorry about something that hurt another person.
If this is something you need, you might not feel complete if another person doesn’t seem to feel bad about how she treated you or what she did. If the other person lacks emotions in her apology to you, it’s always important to think about how she shows emotions in other situations. If she isn’t an emotional person, she probably won’t be showing emotion in an apology – nothing against you!
Owning an action is a critical part of this apology language: remember the fake apology I opened this article with? “I’m sorry YOU feel like this” expresses no ownership of action! If you understand that your action or actions caused harm to another person and make a point to accept that responsibility in your apology, you’ve landed on your language.
If this is something you need, you should remember that you can’t change how someone else communicates, just how you respond to it. Some people will not accept responsibilities for their actions – period. Unfortunately, we can’t get them to do that no matter how hard we try. We can use assertive language to link our emotions to their actions by using the following: I felt (emotion) when you (action). For example, I felt sad when you forgot our plans. They still might not see it as their fault!
Do you feel the need to make something right if you did a wrong? Welcome to making restitution: you have a direct reaction (an active one!) to the action that caused harm. If you lied, you work to build trust. If you broke something, you offer to repay it.
Again, if this is what you need, it’s difficult to get people to do something without directly asking for it. If you know you need this from another person, a simple, “I need more time to rebuild trust in you” or “I would like you to replace it” (if they ask what they can do to make it up to you!).
Do you acknowledge you cause harm, express an apology, and aim for the future? Welcome to repenting – this isn’t about saying “I’m so sorry” a dozen times until someone forgives you, this is a combination of understanding what you did, the harm you caused, and stating that you will work to improve this in the future.
If you need this, ask about what happens if this same situation comes up again. What will the person do? Be cautious with that choice though: it can come across as shaming. Expressing that you don’t want this to happen again might make them think about future actions that may or may not occur.
Do you need the other person to forgive you? Do you like expressing that “It’s ok”? Boom, you’ve got this language. This is the most difficult one in my opinion because you can’t make someone forgive you.
If you know this is what you need, remember to understand the choice. No one owes you anything, and you don’t owe anyone else anything. If you do it, do it with genuine intention.