Make It Right

“The power of forgiveness is huge; it is really big, and it can save the world.”               Immaculee Ilibagiza

You messed up. Perhaps, you did not intentionally make a mistake that caused discomfort or agony to another person. But, you still fumbled. Now, you need to make it right. But, how?

We have all witnessed well-known individuals further bungling an already precarious situation while attempting to apologize to the public and to their family for an unfortunate act they have committed.  Do you notice, as I do, that often the person trying to make things right actually makes things worse? It appears that the person whose blunders created harm is seemingly not really sorry, or not convinced, that they did anything wrong – and the only reason for the apology is that the person got caught in a transgression that required a statement.

Psychologist Heidi Grant makes a great point in her blog, The Most Effective Ways to make it Right when you Screw Up when she says, “Most apologies don’t go well.” She continues . . .

 In a nutshell, the problem is that most people tend to make their apologies about themselves—about their intentions, thoughts, and feelings.

‘I didn’t mean to…’

‘I was trying to…’

‘I didn’t realize…’

‘I had a good reason…’”

Do any of these statements sound familiar?  The answer is, yes. Most of us do not want to purposely hurt another person. And as such, often our apologies may be an attempt to lessen our own personal discomfort in accepting responsibility. The focus may be on ourselves rather than on the one who was ill-treated.

Over 40 years ago, my wife Carol and I received a wonderful gift through an Engaged Encounter weekend retreat we were attending as part of our preparation for marriage, a requirement of the priest who would witness our vows of matrimony.

Married couples, facilitators of the weekend, shared their stories of failure and success.  I will never forget the contrast that was illuminated between different words used in an apology, i.e., ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘Will you please forgive me?’

Merely listening to this contrast was not enough for me.  My understanding came only through personal experience in my marriage.  I discovered that having unwittingly perpetrated hurtful feelings, reconciliation was dependent upon my approach. Positive successful outcomes often resulted from the more vulnerable approach of using the words ‘Will you forgive me?’

While saying ‘I am sorry’ may be spoken with the best intention, it is a statement that often keeps the offending party in control.   ‘Will you forgive me?’ puts the person who was hurt in charge, thus the person committing the wrong is  in the position of vulnerability.  Having tried to make amends many times in the past, using both phrases, I learned through experience the power of being defenseless.

Have you ever heard someone say ‘I am sorry’ followed by the word ‘but?’

I am sorry but you should not have done what you did.

I am sorry but you should not have said what you said.

I am sorry but it was not my fault.

In these situations, the one obvious fact is the offending person is anything but sorry.

Ms. Grant summarizes . . .

“When you screw up, the victim of your screw up does not want to hear about you. Therefore, stop talking about you and put the focus of your apology where it belongs: on him or her. Specifically, concentrate on how the victim has been affected by your mistake, on how the person is feeling, and on what he or she needs from you in order to move forward.”

Relationships are a key element for success in life. And relationships are often messy. We may cause hurt, even when that is not our intention. As long as we are human, we will be the cause of some pain. When things go wrong, we need to make it right! That is in the best interest of the person who was hurt, but also it is in our own best interest to ensure successfulness.

The next time I mess up something with someone who is close, personal and important to my success in life,

I will say. . .

Will you please forgive me?

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