Knowing How to Apologize

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It’s been a while since I last wrote a post – a lot had to do with leading up to getting married (I know, I still can’t believe someone would marry me either), going on my honeymoon, settling in, etc., but believe it or not I also wanted to take a break to let the site keep doing its thing. From last year to now I’ve cleared 1,500 apologies and I felt it was appropriate to start with a little analysis. Today I wanted to focus on relationship-based apologies and tie it back to the idea of becoming better at identifying your apology strategy. Being a curious person, I spent some time going through all of these apologies that were posted and did some quick database work  to see what I could come up with in the wonderful realm of forgiveness. I wanted to make the set of data as good as possible too so I excluded apologies that weren’t sent via my e-mail feature, things that looked shady or fake, etc. What I learned was out of the 260 ”quality” apologies filed under the relationship category, 196 were accepted. Only 13 ended up being rejected, and the rest are still unaccounted for. So if I did my math correctly, 75% of the apologies end up being forgiven. That’s a pretty good number. I decided to take it a bit further and look at the time frame. Out of all of the apologies that were accepted, a whopping 177 (that’s 90%) were accepted within the same day. Many within 2 hours or less. Most of the responses also appeared favorable and sometimes jocular, indicating to me that the person who messed up is probably off the hook for a while.

Forgiveness

Forgive and Forget? 90% of the online apologies were accepted within 1 day.

So lately I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails asking for advice (mike@letmeapologize.com if you’re curious) . Of the hundred or so e-mails, only 5 have NOT been relationship-based to date. I suppose this makes sense, since if you are like me then most of the time you $!#@ up is around your s/o or spouse, right? The thing is, I spend a lot of time trying to listen before I help. Unlike the traditional Let Me Apologize approach I created, where you say sorry publicly and take it from there, the advice side of things is much more personal. There is a deeper problem in the works and it takes a lot of time to understand it. Sometimes I’ll exchange 4 or 5 long e-mails to really get the facts to make an informed suggestion. And to be honest I don’t think I could possibly come close to the truth from a few back-and-forths with the person (the one who messed up in the first place).

What I noticed in this case, however, is that almost 90% of these situations do not end well. I really have no idea if this means I’m bad at giving advice (Wow I sure hope not) or it’s just the execution of said advice, but usually a few weeks or a month later I’ll get a response saying how their ex stopped returning their calls, rejected their apology, got a restraining order, or even left the country in one case! Not good. Although rare, every now and then I’ll get another e-mail back from the same person a few months later stating they feel much better now, have moved on, and sometimes they are even in a better relationship. I really love when that happens and urge all of you to remember that. The pain definitely takes a while to go away but there is always hope.

Does it mean if you apologize online you have a higher chance of being forgiven than if you do it face to face? Hell no.

So what gives? For the most part, you’ll observe the very nature of these online public apologies are more lightweight and playful. Contrast that to the more serious and problematic face-to-face scenarios I’ve been dealing with, and I think it just goes back to what I’ve been saying since I made the site – there is a certain way you need to apologize when you mess up. Different strategies for different points in your life. You’re probably thinking now that this sounds like such common sense – there are degrees of wronging that correlate directly with the levity you bring to your apology. And yet you wouldn’t believe how many times this simple concept is so profoundly messed up (trust me I’m no better). On my page for how to write an apology letter, I mentioned that the best course of action is to first stop and THINK about what happened. Don’t worry about whose fault it is, since it’s probably both of yours. Try to think about the problem itself and what the best approach is to clearing things up. How much time should you wait? When should you do it? Where?

Before jumping right in and saying I’m sorry, the best way to apologize is to first think about what happened before you write anything. Gain understanding not just that you messed up but also how you came to this point. If applicable, ask yourself what events and thought processes got you here. Can you think of a logical reason and what steps you could have taken to prevent this?

I know this sounds pessimistic, but you shouldn’t be completely shocked if things don’t go according to plan right away when you apologize. Relationships are very complex beasts. It takes an enormous amount of self-sacrifice and patience to get things right, and even then you’re bound to mess up. Try to not only learn from your mistakes, but also (and just as importantly) learn from your success in relationship-repairing strategies. This will ultimately lead to you being a more aware person and thus having an easier time navigating through the troubled waters.

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