Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Apologizing When You're Not Wrong

"I'm sorry."

Two little words that honestly can make such a big difference.  Perhaps they're not enough by themselves.  I've instructed my children to apologize often enough with sullen acquiescence to know that just saying the words isn't enough.  But, I've also been in relationships enough to know that the absence of the words can be equally hurtful and damaging.

When we're in conflict with each other, it's right to apologize. Maybe they're just words, but they're also words that communicate a desire to be right with each other.

But what if you don't feel wrong?

It's easy to say you're sorry when you feel like you made a mistake somewhere along the way. You have something to apologize for, then.  (Hard on the ego, maybe. But, still doable.) But, what about when you don't feel wrong? What about when, in fact, you're pretty darn sure that you are/were in the right? Why on earth should you be the one to apologize?

The Whys

--What is more important -- The relationship or your rightness? Sometimes we just have to decide that the health of the relationship, the existence of the relationship, is more important than us being right. It's more important to still be friends and care about each other than it is for us to win. Being right simply isn't worth the price. Sometimes you have to choose the high road.

--When a relationship is in conflict, it's shaken up. Trust gets violated. Belief in each other gets shaken. Doubts creep in. An apology gives your relationship a chance to heal.  It isn't an instant-fix.  Any apology needs to be backed up with actions later on in the course of things.  But an admission of regret over what happened gives the conflict enough of a reprieve that the relationship can begin to heal. Trust can be slowly sewn back together. Doubts can be assuaged. Belief can be strengthened.

-- You could be wrong.  Oh, I know that you're pretty sure you're right.  In fact, you're completely sure that you're right.  But, could you be wrong? I think that, for most of us and in most situations, there's a chance.  And oftentimes, when time has passed and we're able to look back with clearer hindsight, we can see that we weren't quite as right as we thought we were.

The Hows - Simple

--Don't lie. People know when we're lying, and we don't want to damage the relationship further with lies and untruths. Sincerity is important.

-- Apologize honestly for what you can.  If you're sure that you were right in your actions, is there a part of it that you can be honestly regretful over?  Maybe you're sorry that what you did or said hurt them. Maybe you regret not taking the time to consider how your words or actions would affect them. Maybe you wish you had consulted them before acting.  Somewhere, you can surely find something that you can be honest about, something you can convey sorrow and regret for.  Apologize for those things and mean them.

Because the relationship is worth it. Because your care for each other is worth it. Because being part of each other's lives is worth it.

Be willing to apologize... even if you're sure you're not wrong.


  1. Agree:) I have apologized when I thought I was right ( I probably wasn't) because the friendship meant more to me than being right. I am glad, I feel I can look back and not regret not making a move forward. hwmmm does that make sense???

    1. lol It does. It's hard to step past our own "but I'm right!"... but most of the time, in the end, I think it can be a good thing. If you're always the one doing it, then I think you've got to look at whether it's a friendship worth keeping. But as an "every once in a while," it's healthy to not have to be right.

  2. Definitely understand when an apology can make amends. People should be rated at a higher importance than just about any issue.

    Lately though I've had an unexpected twist. I'm saying I'm sorry and legitimately not understanding what I should be sorry for, but apologizing just the same. This turns around and bites me later when the apology is then used as a "blood-oath" monitored under high-security(<--a little humor) to ensure that I will never cause the offense again--which never seemed to be rationally understood or communicated in the first place. Thus, apology, apology, ad infinitum.

    At some point, both parties have to, as Steven Covey puts it, "seek first to understand, then be understood..." Not, "seek apology first, then, 'whatever I'm done...'"


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