Let's get clear about what an apology is and isn't

I’m going to deviate from what I normally write about because something happened this last week that I can’t resist commenting about. Now as soon as I tell you what it is, you are likely to think I’m jumping into the political arena so let me assure you I am not. While I would love to comment on what happens in that arena, my higher self keeps reminding me to stay out.

But here’s the set up. 40+ million of us watched the Republican debates last week. What caused a lot of post-debate buzz was the interaction between Donald Trump and Meghan Kelly. Donald, not liking the questions asked my Meghan, made some comments after the event about blood coming out of her eyes and more, which most people thought were highly inappropriate. I would have to agree. He was asked to apologize and he refused. When asked why, he said “I did nothing wrong” so why should I apologize? Which leads me to my observation.

People generally think that an apology is an admission that you have done something wrong and, because people don’t want to admit that they are wrong about anything, they are reluctant to apologize. Even when people say they are willing to apologize, they usually don’t. They say they are “sorry” and being sorry is not the same as apologizing.

So let’s set the record straight. When correctly understood, an apology has nothing to do with right and wrong. It is not an admission of guilt. In fact, it has very little if anything to do with the person apologizing. An apology is an act of compassion which is highly appropriate and effective whenever you do or say anything that has a negative impact on another, whether intended or not. If Mr. Trump understood this, he would clearly see that an apology was called for.

Here’s our definition of an apology: I acknowledge what I said, did or didn’t do; I acknowledge that whatever I said or did had an impact on you; I’m willing to take responsibility; and I request you forgive me.

The reality is that we all go through life stepping on other people’s toes, figuratively speaking. It’s almost impossible to not do that. The vast majority of the time, we had no intention to impact the other person in a negative way. I’m even willing to give Donald the benefit of the doubt and assume he did not mean what people thought he meant when he said what he did. But regardless of our good intentions, we still do damage. So what are we to do? Ignore the damage because we didn’t intend it and surely don’t want to admit we were wrong?

I say no. We have been given a tool to repair the damage and it is a beautiful tool. Just apologize. Your apology lets the other person know that you understand that you said or did something that caused their upset, you are willing to accept responsibility for that and you request they forgive you. In almost every case, they are happy to do that and the situation is complete. And that is the best part of all, the situation is complete, which is a far better result than leaving the other person upset and blaming you and you walking away either feeling righteous or guilty.

My coach Lewie used to say: when you are born, you are given an infinite supply of apologies to use during your life. Be sure to use them all!

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