Learning to say I am sorry is more difficult for some of us than others. I’ve learned that the art of the apology is not as straightforward as you would think.
On the other side of the apology is the forgiver. That can be just as difficult to master. Truly forgiving isn’t just uttering a few words and moving on. We often hold on to the events, the past, the words long into the future. And they drag us down.
One of a leader’s most powerful attributes is the ability to forgive. Forgiveness can be a powerful opportunity for reconnection both with the offender and with ourselves. Learning to forgive can help a person move forward in life rather than becoming a roadblock to success.
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
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
A few weeks ago, I had one of those days. You know what I’m talking about. You’re going to a meeting when someone suddenly cuts you off. You decide to grab a quick cup of coffee at Starbucks. Instead of moving at the normal fast pace, the line seems to take forever. Finally getting your coffee, you glance at your watch and think you have just enough time to make it to the meeting. But when you rush back out to your car, you find someone has decided to park behind you. After locating the offending car owner, you are back on your way only to get a phone call asking if you could delay the meeting until tomorrow.
Life’s frustrations. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind and forget what truly matters.
During this particularly frustrating day, I heard something that immediately changed my point of view. Immaculee Ilibagiza was visiting Nashville in a few weeks. Just thinking of her story changed my perspective in an instant.
Do you know her story?
One of the Most Powerful Stories I’ve Ever Heard
Immaculee grew up in Rwanda and had a fairly normal life until 1994 when everything changed. Hutu extremists seized control of power and began a genocide that would rip her world apart. Immaculee hid for 91 days with seven other women in a small bathroom as killers searched for them.