What happens when someone meets you with anger or criticism you don’t feel you deserve?
Anger begets anger. Big emotions from others can throw your own emotions for a loop. And responding to uncontrolled emotion with strong emotions of your own is rarely a winning formula. Unfortunately, there is often little or no value to fighting this kind of fire with fire.
So what can you do? Try this.
I’m sorry you feel that way.
This simple phrase can be remarkably disarming. It doesn’t accept wrong doing on your part. (If you should take responsibility, that’s another story.) It expresses recognition of the other person’s emotional state. And it gives them a chance to calm down without turning the conversation into a fight.
As I’ve recommended in the past, follow the phrase up with a healthy dose of silence and the other person’s emotional fire might just flame out.
On Wednesday I wrote about how to deliver an apology. One of my very astute readers posted this comment:
This is great advice about offering an apology. Now, what do we need to know about accepting an apology? As kids we were taught to say, “That’s OK”, which seems dishonest. It wasn’t OK. “I accept your apology” seems haughty. So how do you accept with grace?
Great question! Worthy of today’s post.
I agree that, “That’s OK,” minimizes the situation and also minimizes the gracious act of apology. And, “I accept,” does indeed sound a bit righteous.
Apology when done right is an act of reconciliation. It is an attempt to bring come together. If someone is willing to subdue their ego for this purpose, our job on the receiving end should be the same.
Here’s my best suggestion.
Thank you for apologizing. That means a lot to me.
What do you recommend?
In April I offered the Four Fatal Communication Blunders in which people think (and would certainly say) they are trying to do one thing, when in fact they are doing something totally contradictory.
Here’s one more.
Apologizing – Reconciling vs. Protecting
What’s the real point of your apology? Is it to reconcile and heal a relationship? Or is it to protect your own ego?
Many apologies start off well. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I shouldn’t have.”
But somewhere in there we shift into explanations for why the apologized for actions weren’t our fault and make perfect sense when seen from our view. That’s the blunder. That’s our ego kicking into protection mode, shielding us from the threat of believing that we did something truly wrong.
This ego protection destroys the apology. It takes us out of reconciliation and right back into disagreement. For an apology that heals we need to focus on healing.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have. How can I make it better?”
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
I used this quote recently and attributed it Kipling. One of my readers correctly pointed out that it was from Shakespeare.
So consider . . .
1. I’ve been swamped with work. I haven’t had the time to check these details. My editor/fact checker has been on vacation. Everything I write can’t be expected to be perfect.
Or . . .
2. That’s absolutely correct. I got that completely wrong. Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention.
I’ve never seen anyone grow in other people’s esteem by defending themselves with a response like #1. They only serve their own egos. When you make a mistake, even if you do have a great excuse, try a response like #2. It serves the other person’s esteem and actually makes you look better to them than any excuse could ever do.
This week marks the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II. Unbeknownst to most Americans the Japanese commemorate that event with ceremonies and senior official visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial site for generations of Japan’s war dead. The only problem with that tradition is that the honored soldiers of Yasukuni Shrine include 14 Class A war criminals.
This year Naoto Kan became the first Prime Minister of Japan to assert that no member of his cabinet would visit Yasukuni. Instead he apologized for the suffering World War II caused and for the atrocities imperialist Japan committed in Asia in the first half of the 20th century.
Today he is being roundly criticized for these acts.
We should all salute Naoto Kan. We should celebrate his honesty. We should applaud his apology. And we should follow suit.
Personally and governmentally we tend to avoid and even fear apologies. We try to admit no wrong. And in so doing we constantly sow deeper divisions.
We are none of us perfect. We all have mistakes for which we owe apologies.
Today let’s thank the hero, Naoto Kan, for showing us the strength of great leadership.