Last week I was asked by a colleague about apologizing. “I’ve apologized again and again and she just won’t let it go,” she said. The frustration was mounting for her and it seemed the other person wasn’t willing to accept the apologies. She only seemed to want more apologies. When the apologies were finally accepted, a lingering negativity remained.
Think of the last time you owed someone an apology. How did you feel? Why did they want it? Did you give it to them? How did that feel? Did they accept or reject it? Did they reject and then later accept it? How did that feel?
The quote at the top of this email from John Wayne is absolutely correct. Apologies are a sign of weakness, not for the person issuing it, but for the person receiving it.
What Is An Apology And How Is It Weakness?
According to an online dictionary, an apology is “a written or spoken expression of one’s regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another.”
Based on the above, apologizing to someone is an expression/admission of guilt for what you did to them. The problem with that is that the premise is false. You didn’t do anything to them. You did something and they had an internal reaction/response to what you did. And you aren’t responsible for their reaction. You didn’t cause their upset. Your actions revealed something in them that was already there.
When they said, “you did X to me,” they put themselves in the position of being your victim. When you apologized for it, you affirmed that they were your victim. Both of you agreed that you were “at fault” and in control of their experience. Suggesting that someone controls the internal reaction of another is incredibly disempowering. This is how apologies are a sign of weakness.
Why Apologies Feel Both Good And Bad
Playing the victim is like playing with a loose tooth: it kind of hurts, but in some weird way it kind of feels good. It hurts because, on some level, they recognize that by accepting your apology they are abdicating their empowerment to you. It feels good because they get to offload their responsibility for their experience to you and ignore the fact that something inside them is upset. “It’s not their fault.”
The dynamic wherein someone initially rejects and later accepts an apology is evident of how they feel good and bad, showing up as “competing intentions.” Rejecting the apology can serve a lesser evolved aspect of them to punish you for “what you did to them” because it is upset and is trying to find a way to feel better – an eye for an eye. A more evolved aspect of them rejects your apology because it recognizes that accepting it is disempowering.
Accepting the apology serves the lesser evolved aspect because it acknowledges the upset that exists. The more evolved aspect accepts it because it recognizes you didn’t intend to upset them. And this leads us to what it is actually wanted.
An Apology Isn’t Want Is Really Desired
The last time you gave an apology it probably didn’t completely settle everything because the other person didn’t fully get what they wanted. What they probably wanted was to be heard, acknowledged and understood, and to come to an agreement with you as to how you will engage moving forward. Apologies are typically insufficient in accomplishing this. So here is how you can provide what is truly wanted and help create a life where you NEVER have to give or receive an apology again.
The Exercise
1. Find the person in your world to whom you currently owe an apology.
2. Bring yourself fully present in the moment and prepare to pay close attention to the other person and to yourself.
3. Ask them to share their experience and upset with you. Listen to what they say and how they say it. Notice the energy on which it rides. Allow them to fully express themselves. Don’t interrupt and listen to understand with the awareness that none of what they’re sharing is about you – it’s their experience.
4. When they have come to completion, reflect back to them in your own words your understanding of their experience, thoughts, and feelings and ask them if you understand it correctly. After they affirm, tell them, “I hear you. I get it.” DO NOT use the words, “I’m sorry” and do not explain, deflect or justify anything.
5. After you have confirmed your understanding of their experience, tell them what was your intention. Even use the words, “my intention was…”
6. Ask the person how you can in the future co-create with them what you intend.
7. Thank them for their time and candor.
Was there a difference in your experience? Like, comment or share this with your experience and join the conversations on Facebook!
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About the Author -

Executive coach and motivational speaker Chris M. King facilitates the mind shift necessary for professionals and organizations to achieve authentic success and empowerment. Clients experience productivity increases of up to 40%, freedom from burnout and overwhelm, clarity in times of transition, dramatically improved work/life balance, answers to "what's next," creative solutions for innovation, and an overall increase in satisfaction in career and in life. And he does all of this without ever giving advice! Chris doesn't show them THE way. He guides them in finding THEIR way. An emerging thought leader in the men's movement, Chris also works with professional men and women on accountability, vulnerability, and empowerment. He specifically addresses the issues associated with mid-life crises and Peter Pan Syndrome. He is a volunteer for ManKind Project International, a contributing author to The Good Men Project and Elephant Journal, and is honored to be working with Sam Morris as a contributor to Zen Warrior Training®, helping people achieve self-mastery. Chris is also a coach at Project Bully Buster, coaching teens as they navigate the challenges of adolescence. He is honored to work with and support organizations dedicated to the men’s movement, to women's issues, and, as brother to a special needs sister, the US Special Olympics. Chris is currently working on his first book.


  • Almeda Reply

    Greetings! Very helpful guidance on this post! It really is the small changes that make the biggest changes.
    Thanks a lot for sharing!

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