One of life’s essential leadership skills is the art of the apology. Part of being human is that we all make mistakes, say the wrong thing, and misread others. We hurt people sometimes knowingly and sometimes not.
Some people have a difficult time saying, “I am sorry” while others are able to say it freely.
But is sorry enough?
- Ever hear the words “I am sorry” but it didn’t do it for you?
- Have you ever apologized to someone only to find that it almost fell flat?
- What if there was a specific language of apology that changed everything?
Gary Chapman is the author of the 5 Love Languages® series and director of Marriage and Family Life Consultants. Jennifer Thomas is an author, speaker, and psychologist. Their new book When Sorry Isn’t Enough taught me why “I am sorry” is often not good enough. I recently had the opportunity to connect with Dr. Thomas and talk about the art of the apology, relationships, forgiveness and trust.
“Forgiveness holds the power to give renewed life to the relationship.” –Chapman / Thomas
Sorry Isn’t Always Enough
Why did you decide to research and study the apology?
Several years ago, I made a mistake that led to an argument with my husband. Ironically, this incident happened the evening before we were to teach about communication and forgiveness to a pre-marital class at our church. As he and I worked through our own argument, I offered an apology to him that failed to hit the mark. I was thinking to myself, “This is not good. We are barely speaking and yet we are supposed to teach together tomorrow.”
Normally, I might have been miffed by his response, but this time my curiosity took over and so I asked him what he would like to hear in my apology. While I had been saying, “I’m sorry,” he needed to hear me say, “I was wrong.” I had made a mistake, and I knew I was in the wrong, so I went ahead and said it to my husband. I was amazed by how quickly this apology worked. My husband felt better, and the emotional tension between the two of us slipped away.
I made a mental note to include my husband’s favorite words in future apologies I would give to him. I wondered if our experience might help other people who are in the “doghouse” and don’t know how to get out of there.
The Language of Apology
How did you connect your ideas with Dr. Chapman’s love languages?
I had met Gary Chapman locally through my work as a psychologist in private practice in North Carolina. I was curious about his thoughts on apologies. I thought to myself, “Just as you should show love in a language that really speaks to others, you should also speak apologies that contain the words they are waiting to hear.” Six months later, I made an appointment to talk over these ideas with him. Dr. Chapman was very encouraging, and we ended up writing a book together.
“Genuine apology opens the door to the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation.” –Chapman / Thomas
If you are close to someone, it’s inevitable that you’ll need to apologize to them. How can you be prepared to speak their apology language?
Here are a couple of conversation starters that will help you be prepared when the need to apologize arises. Ask the people who are closest to you:
- When you hear a great apology, what is included?
- When you hear a lame apology, what is missing?
“Trust is that gut-level confidence that you will do what you say you will do.” –Chapman / Thomas