Monday, September 9, 2013

Apologizing: Valuing Your Relationship More Than Your Ego

As the Jewish season of repentence reaches a crescendo and apologizing is high on the to-do list, I have been thinking a lot about why apologizing can be so difficult. The  process for giving an apology is well documented by psychologists and Rabbis alike. 

1. Recognize you have upset someone
2. Ask for forgiveness
3. Offer to make reparations
4. Don't do it again.

Relationships we value are precious and require nurturing. However that does not mean they are without controversy, misunderstandings or disagreements. Relationships - professional and personal - need constant work and communication. Even with the best intentions, arguments can ensue and feelings can be hurt. 

Here are some questions I have been grappling with and I wonder if you have too.

When we do argue with people we care about, what is it that can make apologizing so difficult ?

Why do we have a difficult time apologizing without justification or caveat?

What must  we do BEFORE we make the apology?

A story first.....

A number of years ago, after getting off a very long transatlantic flight from the UK, I headed straight to a dinner party I was co-hosting. Struggling to keep my eyes open I chatted to people as they arrived and was working out with my co-host Lena who we were still expecting from the guest list. Lena mentioned that her neighbor Marian, a very dear friend of mine had just called to cancel and I commented that she often cancelled last minute. I thought nothing more about it and I enjoyed the party.

A few weeks later Marian called to tell me, that Lena had repeated my comment back to her and that she was upset and disappointed with me. I was mortified..... Mortified that I had said that about Marian. Shocked that her neighbor had passed on the comment, but most of all I was horrified that I had upset someone who was very important to me.

 I listened carefully to why Marian was upset and I apologized, but added the caveat that I was very jet-lagged and was not thinking straight. 

That was not my proudest moment to be sure. 

There was no excuse for my behavior.

I should NEVER have said that to anyone about Marian and I was glad, if a little shaken that she had raised it with me so that I had a chance to apologize and then a second time without an excuse.

Recalling that experience still unsettles me and I am even more careful than ever about what comes out of my mouth.
I posted the quote above, on my blog this time last year. It had been stuck on my wall above my computer for a while to remind me of what is at the essence of an apology. I find it gets to the core of why apologizing is so difficult and so important. 

And therefore it clues us in to the place we need to start if we want to show we are  truly sorry.

In order to answer the questions at the beginning of this post it is important to understand the following idea:-

 The hardest thing of all is to recognize that we need to apologize  BECAUSE we care about the relationship we have with the person and the fear it could be damaged, MORE than whether we are right or wrong. 

So, the very first step in the apology process is that we need to recognize that apologizing is important to maintain a relationship we value. 

The decision to apologize takes self-reflection because apologizing means we have to accept that:-

1. We are imperfect (Humility) 
2. We can see something from the other person's perspective 
3. We put someone else's needs at the same level as ours because they matter to us more than being right. (Manage our ego and the fear it may be damaged)

Apologizing also means we have to take  risks:-

1. Giving an apology does not mean it will be accepted. 
2. Giving an apology means we understand we have flaws.
3. Giving an apology means we may have to change our behavior.
4. Giving an apology means we have to show we care about someone else's feelings and our mutual relationship.

Only after we have come to terms with these risks are we ready to actually apologize.

Spending the time thinking about the need to apologize is an important precursor to a successful apology. If this quote has got you thinking about what is stopping you or a loved one from apologizing, then you are well on the way to preserving a relationship that matters and is in need of repair.

Wishing you all peaceful, supportive, rewarding relationships and the courage to apologize because you care about someone very, very much.


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  1. I am still struggling over a loose lipped comment I foolishly made at your home a few Shabbatot ago. Will discuss by voice.

    1. I forgive you!!! Now we can talk about it...whatever it is....... Gillyxx