If you’re like me, you would rather walk barefoot through burning coals or attend a political fundraiser than actually admit you suffered a brief laps of judgement which led to hurting a loved one’s feelings. Perhaps the two most difficult words to say in the English language are “I’m sorry.” Why is it so hard to admit when we’ve made a mistake and then to offer a heart felt apology?
The truth is we all make mistakes. Misunderstandings occur even among the closest family members, friends, and coworkers. The good news is that a sincere and thoughtful apology can be a powerful tool to heal almost any relationship.
The following are five tips for offering sincere and effective apologies:
1. Understand the issue before offering an apology! Apologies can be dismissed as insincere or superficial unless the intention for the apology is clear. If you are unsure why someone feels offended or what you did that resulted in hurt feelings – ask! Talk about the situation beforehand to determine the purpose of the apology. Resist the urge to get into an argument. Remember, you don’t have to agree, just try to understand the other person’s perspective.
2. Take your time! Forgiveness cannot be rushed! Hurrying through an apology just to “get it over with” can leave the receiver confused whether the apology was real or a thin attempt at justification. Also, in the heat of the moment, the other person may be still too angry or hurt to hear the apology. If this is the case, express a desire to talk more about the issue later when tempers and emotions have had time to “cool off.”
3. Only take responsibility for your behavior! An apology is about the offender wanting to take ownership of their actions. Be careful not to fall into the tempting trap of pointing out the other person’s errors while offering an apology. If you are less defensive chances are others will be more likely to own their part in the unfortunate incident.
4. Attempt to repair damage whenever possible! Even when repair is not possible, offering to right a wrong can be healing for both the injured party and the offender. You may not always agree about the degree of damage and requests for compensation may seem unreasonable. However, it is not up to the giver of the apology to determine what the receiver needs to heal the relationship. Ask for time to consider a request and avoid getting sucked into the other person’s anger.
5. If your apology isn’t accepted, don’t despair! Many concerns can slow down the forgiveness process. Perhaps you are expressing sympathy for the plight of the injured party but not taking responsibility for your actions, or perhaps you are “sorry” only because you got caught. Allow some healing time and then offer the apology again.
Offering sincere and timely apologies not only helps rebuild damaged relationships, expressing regret for past mistakes keeps healthy relationships on track. Keep in mind that apologizing is an ongoing process so don’t get discouraged if it takes longer than expected. The liberating force of forgiveness is well worth the effort!
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