I’m Sorry, So Sorry: How To Show Your Regret

when sorry isn't enough. sad dog face.

when sorry isn't enoughWelcome to my blog. I’m a psychologist and the co-author (with Gary Chapman) of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. I share tips about What to Say When challenging conversations arise. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversation here.

In our book, When Sorry Isn’t Enough, Gary Chapman and I talk about five essential parts of an apology. Our apology survey showed that the evidence of sincerity in apologies differs from person to person. In this blog post, I’ll examine one of our languages of apology in detail.

Apology Language #1: Expressing Regret
The first language of apology is expressing regret. Most people say simply, “I’m sorry.”
Regret focuses on what you did or failed to do and how it affected the other person. The offended person is upset, and they want to know that you understand their pain or anger.

Basically, they want some evidence that you realize how deeply you have hurt them. For some people, this is the one thing they listen for in an apology. Without the expression of regret, they do not sense that the apology is adequate or sincere.

An apology has more impact when it’s specific. When we’re specific, we show the offended person that we truly understand how much we have hurt him or her. We place the focus on our action and how it affected the other person. And the more details we can give, the better.

Rodney, who has been married three years to his second wife, says, “I know that my wife means it when she says, ‘I’m sorry. I know that I hurt you by yelling at you.’ Then she does not go on to accuse me of causing her to get upset. My first wife always blamed me for everything.” Many people in our research made statements similar to this. “She apologizes, but then turns it around and blames her actions on something I did.”

Any time we shift the blame to the other person, we have moved from an apology to an attack. Attacks never lead to restored trust.

For some people, getting a sincere expression of regret is the strongest language of apology. It is what convinces them that the apology is sincere. Without it, they will hear your words but the words will appear empty.

My Real Life Frustration:

Last spring I was part of a group of women who received end-of-the-year prizes for each having led a small group. I had been told to make a selection from a consultant’s sales catalog (what a fun idea!) and was eagerly awaiting the arrival of my thank-you gift. The summer came and went with no delivery of my product. I began to wonder, Where is my order? When the end of the year came with no package, I concluded that my order was not likely to come. I actually decided at that time that it was not worth pursuing the issue with anyone. I reasoned that I had enjoyed leading the group and put the item out of my mind with the refrain, “Easy come. Easy go.”

Imagine my surprise when I received a telephone message from the consultant the next spring. She said that she had been cleaning out boxes and found my order! She closed the phone message by saying simply that she wanted to arrange to get the item to me. For my part, I was pleasantly surprised to be in the position to receive that which I had let go.

However, something was still nagging at me. I replayed her message and confirmed my suspicion: She had failed to say, “I am sorry for my mistake,” or to express any sort of regret. I would have quickly embraced such an apology. As it was, I pondered the issue in my mind long enough to write it down and to wonder how often I might do the same thing. Do I correct problems, yet not assume responsibility or express regret? The magic words “I’m sorry” would have made a difference to me.

when sorry isn't enough. couple sitting on couch talking.
Photo by educationdynamics

What to Say: Here are some phrases you may copy and paste to put meat on the bones of your apologies:

  •  • I know now that I hurt you very deeply. That causes me immense pain. I am truly sorry for what I did.
    • I’m sorry that I caused you so much pain.
    • At the time, obviously I was not thinking very well. I never intended to hurt you, but now I can see that my words were way out of line.
    • I’m sorry that I was so insensitive.
    • I am sorry that I violated your trust. I’ve created a roadblock in our relationship that I want to remove. I understand that even after I apologize, it may take a while for you to venture down the road of trust with me again.
    • You were promised a service that we haven’t provided. I am sorry that our company clearly dropped the ball this time.

What Not to Say:

Sincere regret also needs to stand alone. It should not begin with the word “If…” and it will fall flat if it is followed with “But…”. Don’t go into explanations for your actions. The reason for your mistake is not the issue right now: the problem you caused is the only issue on the table right now. If you think an explanation might help the person to be less upset, wait at least 10 minutes after your apology. Then you can bring up any extenuating circumstances or explanation with less chance of sounding like you are letting yourself off the hook.

Share Your Thoughts Here:

What do you think? What words do you NOT like to hear in an apology?

How can you tell if people really understand the hurt they have caused you?

 

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What to Say When… You Have an Overdue Apology

Car Wreck 38th Chestnut
Car Wreck 38th Chestnut (Photo credit: Aquistbe)

Welcome to my blog. I’m a psychologist and the co-author (with Gary Chapman) of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. I share tips about What to Say When challenging conversations arise. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversation here.

Is anyone waiting for an apology from you? Are you waiting to hear words of apology from someone else? In talking with people about apologies, I’ve found that more people than not would like to hear an apology today. I’m among that crowd.

I’d like to hear an apology from the stranger who ran into my car with hers at a traffic light. The force of the wreck pushed my car across another lane of traffic and into a curb. The force of my car hitting the curb turned my car around backwards where it finally came to a stop. Although my car was badly damaged, my body was intact. I didn’t require hospitalization but something inside me was gone.

My sense of safety flew out my shattered car window. I had been driving to visit my sister when the driver hit my car and brought my plans to a screeching halt. For months, I was nervous about driving under green lights. The police found the other driver to be completely at fault. I had seen her walking around after the wreck but we were kept apart. My car was repaired, and I moved on. But part of me still wanted something: an apology from the other driver.

What were her offenses?

  • Turning left without yielding to oncoming traffic (me)
  • Running into my car
  • Putting my life in danger
  • Ruining my short-term plans
  • Threatening my entire future

I haven’t gotten this apology and with each passing day, it seems more unlikely. I’m using forbearance. This means letting go and letting God be the judge. It’s one-sided forgiveness.DSC_6194

Perhaps you’ve been through something as bad as or much worse than my experience. If not, perhaps you can still relate to some of my feelings. I think a man named Claude Soffell could relate too. Who is he? I read online that Mr. Soffell was mugged 30 years ago. The man who mugged him, Michael Goodman, was briefly arrested for the mugging. Goodman wrote publicly that he has carried enormous guilt for this mistake he made back in his 20’s.

I was touched by the imperfect but contrite message Goodman recently posted on Soffell’s Facebook page:

What He Said:

“Finally I can say ~ I’M VERY SORRY that you had to go through that crap that day long ago, I wish it had never happened but it did.”

What Happened Next?

Apparently, Mr Goodman faced an intense ten-hour wait for a reply, but the man he had mugged more than three decades ago did eventually get back to him. He posted this reply:

“Michael A. Goodman, clearly you’re a “bigger man” today. wow. Memory is a funny thing, I recognize your name now, as well. So, apology accepted.”

Your Turn:

What is your reaction to this story?

Do you have an apology that you need to offer?

Is there an apology you are waiting to hear?

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What to Say When… You are Really, Truly Sorry

Welcome to my blog. I’m a psychologist and the co-author (with Gary Chapman) of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. I share tips about What to Say When challenging conversations arise and I welcome your thoughts and questions. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversations here.

In our book, When Sorry Isn’t Enough, Gary Chapman and I talk about five essential parts of any apology. In this blog post, I’ll talk in detail about our first Apology Language: Expressing Regret.

Regret focuses on what you did or failed to do and how it affected the other person. The offended one is hurt, and they want to know that you “get it.”  Beyond saying, “I am sorry”, what else can you do?

An apology has no impact unless it’s specific. When we get into the details, we show that we truly understand how much we have hurt him or her. We place the focus on our action and how it affected the other person. And the more details we can give, the better.

Sincere regret also needs to stand alone. It should not be followed with “But…”. Rodney, who has been married three years to his second wife, says, “I know that my wife means it when she says, ‘I’m sorry. I know that I hurt you by yelling at you.’ Then she does not go on to accuse me of causing her to get upset. My first wife always blamed me for everything.”

Many people in our research made statements similar to this: “She apologizes, but then turns it around and blames her actions on something I did.” Any time we shift the blame to the other person, we have moved from an apology to an attack. Attacks never lead to restored trust.

For some people, getting a sincere expression of regret is the strongest language of apology. It is what convinces them that the apology is sincere. Without it, they will hear your words but the words will appear empty. For them, it feels like opening a gift that has nothing inside.

My Real Life Example:

Two years ago, I was part of a group of women who received end-of-the-year thank you gifts for each having led a small group. I love freebies as much as the next person, so I thought this sounded great. I selected my prize from a sales consultant’s catalog and was eagerly awaiting the arrival of my thank-you gift. The summer came and went with no delivery of my product. I began to wonder, “Where is my order?”

When the end of the year came with no package, I realized that my order was not likely to come. I actually decided at that time that it was not worth pursuing the issue with anyone. I reasoned that I had enjoyed leading the group and put the item out of my mind with the refrain, “Easy come, easy go.”

Imagine my surprise when I got a telephone message from the consultant the next spring. She said that she had been cleaning out boxes and found my order! She closed the phone message by saying simply that she wanted to arrange to get the item to me. For my part, I was pleasantly surprised to be in the position to receive what I had already let go. However, something was nagging at me.

I replayed her message and confirmed my suspicion: She failed to say, “I am sorry for my mistake,” or to express any sort of regret.

I pondered the issue in my mind long enough to write it down and to wonder how often I might do the same thing. Do I correct problems, yet not assume responsibility or express regret? The magic words “I’m sorry” often make a world of difference.

This example from my life is about a minor problem. Our survey showed that people want a really good apology when your mistake is either serious or repeated. In those cases, you could try on one of these phrases and add your own details. Remember to stop yourself if you get the itch to say “But.”

What to Say When You Really Mess Up at Home or at Work:

  • I know now that I hurt you very deeply. That causes me immense pain. I am truly sorry for what I did.
  • I feel really bad that I disappointed you. I should have been more thoughtful. I’m sorry that I caused you so much pain.
  • I never intended to hurt you, but now I can see that my words were way out of line. I’m sorry that I was so insensitive.
  • I am sorry that I violated your trust. I’ve created a roadblock in our relationship that I want to remove. I understand that even after I apologize, it may take awhile for you to venture down the road of trust with me again.
  • You were promised a service that we have not provided. I am sorry that our company clearly dropped the ball this time.

Share Your Thoughts Here:

How can you tell if people really understand the hurt they have caused you?

How can the above suggestions help you tell if someone’s apology is sincere?

 

New! Leave a comment here or under any of my posts this month and/or share this post and you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon gift card from me.

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An Apology Cheat Sheet

In a perfect world, there would be no need for apologies. But because the world is imperfect, we can’t survive without them. In our book, When Sorry Isn’t Enough, Gary Chapman and I say that without apologies, anger builds and pushes us to demand justice. If a company doesn’t make things right, their customers will move on. If you tell your date that you are offended but he or she won’t apologize, you are likely to find someone else to date.

What can apologies do for you? Genuine apologies make things right again. They also open the door to greater trust and loyalty.

What we have discovered in our research is that there are five fundamental aspects of an apology. We call them the five languages of apology. Each of them is important. But for a particular individual, one or two of the languages may show your sincerity more effectively than the others. That is, when you cover their primary language of apology, you make it easier for them to genuinely forgive you. When you fail to speak their language, it makes forgiveness more difficult.

Here is our “Cheat Sheet” For Apologizing:

Apology Language #1 -Expressing Regret: Say, “I am sorry.” List the hurtful effects of your action. Show remorse. It doesn’t count if someone is only sorry that they got caught!

Apology Language #2 – Accepting Responsibility: Say, “I was wrong.” Name your mistake and accept fault. Note that it is easier to say “You are right” than “I am wrong”, but the latter carries more weight.

Apology Language #3 – Restitution- Making Amends:  Ask, “How can I make it right?” How are they now? Is any debt owed or repayment due? Say, “I want to make amends to you.”

Apology Language #4 – Repentance: Say, “I’m going to change and here is how I will do it…” Repentance- literally means turning around 180 degrees. Engage in problem-solving. Don’t make excuses. Make a better, specific plan for change.

Apology Language #5 – Requesting Forgiveness: Ask, “Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?” Be patient in seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. The other person may need the gift of time.

What should you do when you are offering apologies to customers or friends and you don’t know their primary language of apology? Try to include all five of them. You are bound to say something that will show your sincerity to them.

What words of apology are music to your ears? Answering these three questions will help you figure out your primary apology language.

1. What Do I Expect the Person to Do or Say? Ask yourself the question, What do I expect the person to say or do that would make it possible for me to genuinely forgive them? You may find that your answer will involve several apology languages.
2. What Hurts Most Deeply about This Situation? This question is especially helpful if the offender hasn’t yet apologized at all or hasn’t apologized to your satisfaction.
3. When I apologize to others, which of the five languages do I think is most important? Maybe two languages seem to be equally important to you; that is, both speak loudly to you about the sincerity of the other person.Then perhaps you are bilingual. 

Share Your Thoughts Here:

What do you think?

What do you most want to hear in an apology?

Three Things Forgiveness Cannot Do

forgiveness_cannot_do

Welcome to my blog. I’m a psychologist and the co-author (with Gary Chapman) of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. I share tips about What to Say When challenging conversations arise and I welcome your thoughts and questions. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversations here.

We often have the mistaken idea that forgiveness will heal everything. Let me share three things that forgiveness does not do.

(1) Forgiveness does not remove all the consequences of wrongdoing. The father who abandons his children may repent ten years later, but forgiveness does not restore the ten years of void.

(2) Forgiveness does not immediately restore trust. Once trust is violated, it must be rebuilt by the person being trustworthy. If that happens, then over time trust will be restored.

(3) Forgiveness does not remove the offense from one’s memory. It does mean that you choose not to hold the offense against them.

Apologies and forgiveness can be awkward. They can feel painful. In the long run, however, they give an immeasurable payoff: peace and connection with others.

Your Turn:

What do you think forgiveness can and cannot do?

 

 

About this blog

 

Our book

 

Gary Chapman is well known as the ‘love languages guy’.  His New York Times bestselling book, The Five Love Languages, has become a classic in the field of relationships.   In 2006, Gary Chapman and I released The Five Languages of Apology, which illuminates the steps for removing barriers in any relationship.  Our book is not a marriage book.  You might want to hop over to my website (www.drjenthomas.com) for a list of our book chapters, which include “Apologies in the Workplace” and “Teaching Children to Apologize.”

We believe that The Five Love Languages and The Five Languages of Apology fit together like a hand in a glove.  Both concepts embody ‘vital statistics’ for making relationships work.  Today, most engaged couples know that they need to learn each others’ love languages.  Yet they will not be fully equipped for their journey without the matching insight: their languages of apology.  Whether in love relationships, friendships, or the workplace, love languages and apology languages are practical tools for cementing your relationships.

In this blog, you’ll find posts about these two essentials:  love/appreciation and handling offenses. I’ll also be talking about apologies in the news and tips for great communication

 

The Forgiveness Service

 

My most popular post concerned my former pastor who recently made a startling apology.  I’ve titled that series of May posts “An Unprecedented Public Apology.”

If you’d like to receive updates on Facebook about my activities and events related to Gary Chapman, you can join our new fan group.

 

My co-author, Dr. Gary Chapman

Dr. Jen Thomas