Everybody makes mistakes. This is a given. Sometimes the mess ups are big and sometimes they are small. Sometimes the cleanup takes a lot of effort and sometimes it’s more about a personal feeling of failure. But at the end of the day, there is simply no way around the fact that we all make mistakes.
Now, when our mistakes impact others, we have some decisions to make. And these decisions likely involve the idea of an apology. I’m sure you’ve received numerous types of apologies over the years. Some of them seemed kind and genuine and heart felt. Some of them probably fell flat and felt like they are being said simply because that’s what is supposed to be done. And many of them fell somewhere in between the two extremes.
So let’s talk about the most effective type of apology. If it’s done right and with genuine compassion and regard for the person that it is being given to, it can be very profound and impactful. It is called the Three-Part Apology and it works like this:
Step 1: Say you’re sorry for what you did. Be specific.
Step 2: Fix what you did & explain why it was wrong.
Step 3: Explain the way you plan to avoid doing the same thing again.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you eat all of the ice cream, even though you know it’s your partners favorite and that he/she will be super bummed that it’s gone. But you do it anyway because you had a super crappy day and feel like you deserve some sort of treat. Besides, he/she will get over it, right? I mean, it’s just ice cream. Well let’s see what happens…
Partner: Hey, where’s the ice cream? Did you eat it all?
You: (oh crap…) Uh, yes, I had a horrible day and needed something sweet.
Partner: But it was my favorite…
You: (uncomfortable pause followed by a sigh and a swallow…) I know. You’re right. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry I ate all of the ice cream. It was wrong because I knew it was your favorite and didn’t take your feelings into account. It was pretty selfish, especially since I could have picked some up when I went to the store before coming home. From now on, I will be more mindful and try to think ahead and consider your feelings. And if I NEED ice cream, I will go pick some up instead of just eating the last of what’s in the freezer. Would you like me to pick some up for you now?
Partner: Oh….well that would be nice but it’s ok. It’s late. Maybe we can go out for ice cream tomorrow night?
You: That sounds awesome! Thank you for understanding. Will you forgive me?
Partner: Yup…thank you for, well, for what you just did.
Now, this example does not mean that you should NOT eat the ice cream. It does not mean that your partners need for ice cream is more important than your need/want for ice cream. What this shows is that there are times when we act in thoughtless, selfish ways, (yes, we all do from time to time) and when we realize that we have behaved in a way that we would not like to have done to us, it is an opportunity to think about our behavior and see if there are ways we could have managed things differently.
Again, this is not about who’s needs are more important. This is simply about recognizing that we make mistakes and that there are almost always alternatives to behavior that could have prevented the issue.
So be accountable for what you do and what you say. And when you mess up, own it. Own your behavior. Swallow the ego and pride and take responsibility for the fact that your words and actions impact others and not always in a kind and loving way.
And remember, this is ok. It doesn’t mean you are broken. It doesn’t mean you are horrible. It doesn’t mean you are an awful person. It means you are human. And we all make mistakes. And we all have the opportunity to own our behavior and fix our mess ups. Remember, nobody makes you do or say something. Nobody. The only person that controls you is you. That’s it.
And you, yes YOU, are indeed strong enough to take responsibility for your actions and behaviors.