I’m Just Not Feeling It. Why So Many Apologies Fall Flat


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 also consult with companies about apologies. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversation here.

shutterstock_114591850“Taking responsibility for mistakes is more important than taking credit for good things.” actress Emily Deschanel, on the best advice her mother gave her.  In Guideposts August 2007, p. 22.

How should we take responsibility for our mistakes? Will the same few words unlock the dog house door for everyone?

Before Gary Chapman and I wrote When Sorry Isn’t Enough, we asked 400 people what they look for in a sincere apology.  We found that their answers fell into these five categories (we call them ‘apology languages’):

  • Apology Language #1: Expressing Regret I am sorry.”
  • Apology Language #2: Accepting Responsibility I was wrong.”
  • Apology Language #3: Restitution-Making Amends What can I do to make it right?”
  • Apology Language #4: Genuinely Repenting I want to change.”
  • Apology Language #5: Requesting Forgiveness Will You Please Forgive me?”

Next, we asked everyone to rank these five elements in order of preference. We thought the evidence for sincerity would differ from person to person- and it did! After all, why are some victims satisfied by a pay-off in a court case and others just want face-to-face words? Why do we hear a public apology and then disagree with others about the sincerity of the apologizer?shutterstock_124303237

The results of our survey are simple: None of the five areas got more than a 28 percent of respondents saying that’s what they were looking for. That means the apology languages are all of basically equal importance. It also means that you can’t simply guess about what another person would like to hear from you in your apology.

Bottom Line: It’s essential that people cover all five of these key criteria for a public apology to be truly successful. If you offer an apology but you miss the apology language of the other person, your apology will fall flat on the ground.

Your Turn:

What do you most like to hear in an apology?

Leave a comment and be entered in my monthly drawing for a FREE copy of my book.


Three Questions That Could Save Your Job


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.

asian_woman_in_suit_pulling_her_hair_angry_mad_save_your_jobOffices are like families. Managers are viewed as parents. For better or worse, co-workers become brothers and sisters. When Rod Stewart was interviewing a new assistant for his band, he asked this: “How do you feel about working in child care?” Stewart knew that his band relaxes by goofing off, often landing them all in trouble. When squabbles and foolish choices arise in your office, you may feel like you’ve also fallen into the “child care” business.

It’s a fact that co-workers don’t always get along. The truth remains that you and your teams need to be productive. When growing up, we had to tolerate (not murder) our siblings, but we didn’t rely on them to help us meet deadlines.

Fairness is a huge problem at work. For example, we may want to complain about a co-worker who doesn’t seem to be working enough hours or who is dealing with private matters on company time. The problem is that managers have too many jobs to do and too many employees to manage.

If a co-worker is driving you crazy, should you ask for help from your boss? One complaint from you doesn’t seem like unnecessary ear-bending but you don’t know how many other situations are eating up the boss’s time. If she or he listens to several disputes in a day, the boss will feel like everyone is in a cat fight. The issues blur together and the unsettled feeling is strong.

What can you do? You might wish you could just fire the annoying person. But that won’t work. First, you might not have the authority to send people packing. Second, even irritating co-workers have unique skills and experience. It’s expensive to train employees so it’s best to settle disputes and keep people working.

It’s inevitable that you’ll find yourself cross-wise with someone at work. When that happens, here is my advice:

What to Say:

If the person is not lying, cheating, abusing or stealing, consider saying nothing for now. Check their actions against the company’s or profession’s code of ethics.  If you think you might need to report them in the future, take careful notes.

If the other side is hostile or aggressive to you, ask them these three questions: 

  1. What’s the matter?
  2. You don’t usually get upset like this. Are you feeling OK?
  3. What could I do to help with this problem?


Why This Works:

These questions will serve to give you time to think, information about their complaint/s, and your listening just might help them to calm down. What many people really need is a good listening to.

You might not be able or willing to do anything to help with their problem. Either way, you will at least get a clear picture of what they think you should be doing to help them.

What Not to Say:

Don’t go to your boss until you have really tried to work things out with the other person.  Then make sure you are prepared to say, “Can you please help me with co-worker X? I’m aware of the following issue, and here is what I have done to attempt to solve it, however I don’t feel sufficient progress is being made and need your guidance.”  Don’t go to them on a hair trigger or without using your own skills to improve the situation.  Especially if you have already talked to management about the problem, they are watching and waiting. Just like parents, they don’t want to have to step in. They want to see if you can work it out.

How Will These Questions Save My Job?:

People join companies but leave people. Simply put, it’s the relationships at work that drive you crazy or that make your work life fun. Simmering resentments and arguments drain the joy out of life.

If a co-worker is mad at you, bring the problem out into the open. Deal with their perception of the problem. Help them out if you can. Your job will stay on track and your productivity will take off. Realize however that your helping someone else is not a sufficient reason to fall behind in your own work, if the situation is that much of a distraction then you may need to bring in other resources.

Your Turn:

Do you hear many complaints at work?

How do you handle them?

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Two Simple Things Your Relationships Need For Survival

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.

“Good relationships are four parts liking each other and seven parts forgiveness.” Quote by Jennifer Thomas

Gary Chapman is known as “The Love Language Man.” His New York Times book, The Five Love Languages, selling over 9 million copies, has become a classic. To have blissful relationships, showing love is a must.  To have happy friends and co-workers, showing appreciation is essential. Recently, Dr. Chapman has embraced a second necessary ingredient for healthy relationships: dealing with offenses through apologies and forgiveness.  In May, Gary Chapman and I released When Sorry Isn’t Enough, which tells readers how to make things right with anyone. We believe that these two books fit together like a hand in a glove. Both sets of tools are needed to make 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.

Since our book on apologies was released, we’ve gotten very positive feedback. One person who emailed me gave me permission to share her thoughts with you:


Do you remember me telling you that I taught on apologies from your book at adult Sunday school at my church?  Well, I had an opportunity yesterday to put your techniques to work.  Someone at church was deeply offended about something that was partially my doing.  I talked with the person one-on-one, and did my best to incorporate all five apology languages.  Whether this person will forgive, I cannot say.  But I was soooooo glad to have had the information from your book to fall upon. I thought you might want to know,

(From my friend)

Also, I received this email from an astute man:

Thanks again for your time at Kiwanis last Thurs.  Really great insights for managing relationships.  My wife and I have had significant arguments about whether or not the other apologized.  I haven’t apologized unless I make it very clear that I was wrong, and she hasn’t apologized unless she makes it clear to me that the future will be different.  Appreciating our different attitudes at least gives us the opportunity (whether or not we take it is another story) to apologize to the other in language they understand and appreciate.

Best wishes,

(From an attendee at one of my seminars)

Are you in a pickle with someone today? Here is a “Cliff Notes” version of both concepts for you to use. Relationships at home and at work can be very challenging. Don’t give up. Use these practical ideas for getting out of any jam with others.

Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages:

  1. Gifts- For some people, what makes them feel most loved is to receive a gift.
  2. Acts of service- Remember that for some people, actions speak louder than words.
  3. Words of affirmation- Say, write, or text encouraging words to other people.
  4. Quality time- This language is all about giving the other person your undivided attention.
  5. Physical touch- To this person, nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch.

NEW! Our 5 Languages of Apology:

  1. Express regret- Say “I’m sorry for the hurt I’ve caused.”
  2. Accept responsibility- Say “I was wrong.”
  3. Make restitution- Ask, “What can I do to make things right?
  4. Genuinely repent- State how you will change so you will not do it again.
  5. Request forgiveness- Ask, “Will you please forgive me?”

Your turn:

Which do you think needs to come first: Love languages or apology languages?

In your experience, what part of an apology do too many people omit?


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J.C. Penney Gives a Cheap Apology to America

J.C. Penney launched a 30-second apology advertisement. This is rare. I give them credit for offering a mea culpa. However, they have much more work to do going forward. Our research showed that in order to convey sincerity to all types of listeners, public apologies should include these 5 parts:

1. Expressing regret- Saying “I’m sorry for the hurt I’ve caused”

2. Accepting responsibility- Saying “I was wrong.”

3. Making restitution- Asking, “What can I do to make things right?

4. Genuinely repenting- Stating how you will change so you will not do it again.

5. Requesting forgiveness- Asking, “Will you please forgive me?”

What did J.C. Penney say in their ad?

“’It’s no secret, recently JC Penney changed. Some changes you liked, and some you didn’t. But, what matters with mistakes is what we learn. We learned a very simple thing: to listen to you, to hear what you need to make your life more beautiful. Come back to JC Penney. We heard you. Now we’d love to see you.”

My analysis:

They admitted to making mistakes, our 2nd language of apology, but they were too vague. We are left wondering:

  • Are you really sorry for your ads that were too risque?
  • How will you make it up to your customers?
  • How will things be different?
  • How much does J.C. Penney really care?

How to Give a Meaningful Apology at Work by Mark Goulston


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 his book, Just Listen, Mark Goulston talks about how to give a strong apology. He says:

Is there someone you need to apologize to? If there is, don’t just say you’re sorry; give them a Power Apology.  It has three parts:

1. Admit that you were wrong and that you’re sorry. Really own up to what you did — or failed to do. For example, “I jumped down your throat and berated you mercilessly when you didn’t get that report done on time. I was wrong to treat you that way and I am sorry.”

2. Show them you understand the effect it had on them. For instance, “And when I did that, and wouldn’t let it go, I think I made you feel cornered and probably anxious — and maybe even panicky.” You don’t need to jump to conclusions or make assumptions about what they must be feeling or thinking; just try to really put yourself in their shoes.

3. Tell them what you are going to do differently in the future so that it doesn’t happen again. For example, “Going forward, when I’m upset about something you have done or failed to do, I’m going to pause and ask myself, ‘What is the outcome I want from speaking to you? In all likelihood it will be for you to just fix what needs to be fixed so you can get the results that both of us want.

To read the full article, click here.

My Thoughts:

His article is a nice introduction to business apologies. To go even deeper, I’d add two of our five languages of apology that he does not mention: making amends and requesting forgiveness.

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What to Say When… Your Wife Pushes You to Climb the Corporate Ladder



Scott’s wife is at it again. She fussed at him for not pushing more for a promotion at work. As usual, Scott feels a mixture of guilt (not very strong) and annoyance (growing by the minute). For their entire 15-year marriage, Jane has pestered him to work harder and be a better provider. Scott wonders if she even notices his strengths, such as he goes to work without fail, he treats Jane with kindness, he buys gifts for her when he goes on business trips, and he likes washing her car for her without being asked.


What to Say:

Scott: Sweetheart, you know you are the love of my life. I want to please you in every way. However, I am tired of you pushing me to make more of myself in the workplace.  When you say that you want me to be a more successful businessman, I shrink to about two inches tall.  I’m content in my hourly job and as long as we can combine our income and pay our bills each month, I feel that I’m doing my part.

Jane: Yes, you are doing OK, but I want to see you do more. I’m worried about the future and I just don’t feel secure in your ability to provide for us. I want you to develop greater ambition and be a star player in your office.

Scott: You’re doing it again. I’ve asked you to stop pushing me and just LEAVE IT ALONE. I’m a “human being”, not a “human doing.” Please don’t measure me by my career success. Let me feel your love and respect for who I am; not for what I do.

Jane: I can see that I’ve hurt you and I never meant to do that. Old habits die hard, but I’ll try to stop pushing you. I married you because I love you. While I might try to change you into a hard-driving career guy, I recognize you have many other gifts. I won’t do this perfectly, but I commit to back off and accept you as you are.

Question: What sticky conversations do you face?

Apologies at Work: An Attorney’s Story of Burying the Hatchet


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.

His Story:

As a young lawyer, my best client had a claim against a consumer business on a debt guaranteed personally by another young lawyer.  Neither the business nor the lawyer could pay, and despite every reasonable effort to resolve the matter, it was necessary to file suit. I told the lawyer that, regretfully, the suit was coming, and I instructed the sheriff to let the lawyer accept service at the sheriff’s office.  It did not work out that way, despite my best efforts, and the other lawyer was furious.  He said some pretty rough things, none of which was true.  Instead of trying to put myself in his shoes and apologizing for the sheriff’s error, I instead focused on his comments.  Sharp words were exchanged.  Later, the matter was grudgingly concluded.

Years passed.  The lawyer and I had few matters together.  The event was largely forgotten, but there was always “that thing”. I had heard the lawyer had spent some time away from the practice contemplating his next phase.  After he stepped away from a business venture, he returned to the private practice.

Last year, the lawyer and I attended an event for a cause of common interest.  Quite unexpectedly, he approached me and volunteered he had acted poorly years before. He apologized he had said things about me he found out were not true, and he had been too proud at the time to apologize. I apologized, too, for my behavior.  As a lawyer supposedly trained to bleed away emotion and vitriol, I should have looked past the other lawyer’s comments at the time.

In retrospect, I have concluded my wrong was the larger of the two, a wrong compounded by the passage of the years.  I had a clearer sight line on the issue, but I squandered it on a cheap angle: my own pride and anger. In one of life’s shadowy twists, it was the other lawyer who came to possess what I did not: humility.

“At the point of apology we strip off a mask and face our limitations. No wonder we hesitate,” said John Kador.  Marshall Goldsmith, a prominent executive coach, says: “I regard apologizing as the most magical, healing, restorative gesture human beings can make. It is the centerpiece of my work with executives who want to get better.”

What I’ve learned about life on the way to the courthouse is this:  In virtually every one of life’s disagreements and experiences, there is fault on both sides.  And humility, if we work hard at it, will teach us to apologize, and to be first about it.  That’s when we drop one of life’s dark masks and catch the light.

*Story shared here with Mike’s permission.

Your Turn:

Do you have an apology story to share?  Please comment below.

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