Apologies: What Works and What Doesn’t

October 5, 2016

sorryWhen a relationship ends, people often have things they need to say in order for both parties to continue to function and cooperate. During the divorce process, a lot of blame can be passed around, and people often say things they don’t mean when tension is running high.

These reactions feel reasonable and controlling them can be very difficult. A misplaced insult or a thoughtless action during mediation may cause regrets that can stay with us and our loved ones. During the divorce process, animosity and old wounds can make the process longer and more difficult. When there are children in the picture, reaching a point where all parties can heal is even more important.

As we all know, apologies matter when we have been hurt by someone close to us. The problem is, not all apologies are created equal and a poor apology can do more harm than good. As a divorce lawyers serving Calgary for over a decade, we would like to share some tips on how to make your apology count so you can avoid painful miscommunication with your spouse.

It is important to put effort into an apology and demonstrate that you understand the way in which the other person was hurt. Just saying the words ‘I’m sorry’ can be a good start, but they can also be empty or meaningless in the eyes of someone who is hurting. Instead, try to summarize what you are sorry for and acknowledge the feelings of the person you are apologize to. For instance, “I am sorry I insulted your mom. It was rude of me and I understand how hurtful that comment was. I never meant to make you feel that you had to choose between us.” This is an example of a solid apology as it contains a ‘sorry’, a demonstration of understanding and an acknowledgement of the other person’s feelings.

When saying you are sorry, always avoid qualifiers. Qualifiers are ways in which an apology is worded to deflect blame or invalidate the other person’s feelings. For instance, “I’m sorry you feel I was rude,” is a subtle way of shifting blame from yourself to the person receiving the apology. “I’m sorry I was rude but your mother is horrible,” is another example of blame shifting. Yet another example of a poorly constructed apology is, “I’m sorry I was rude but you are always rude about my sister.” These types of apologies make a false quid-pro-quo between this situation and another, turning what could have been a good apology into a chance for the apologizer to voice their own complaints. When you use qualifiers in an apology, the person you are apologizing to is likely to feel that you are apologizing as a way of furthering your own ends, and not to make them feel better.

We hope this advice is helpful in building genuine, sincere apologies that maintain open communication and foster cooperation.

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