Communication Self Improvement — 05 October 2014
The Benefits of Apologizing

Apologizing for one’s error is a very uncomfortable task for most people. It requires admitting having made a mistake, voicing publicly one’s frailty or imperfection, risking being perceived unfavorably by others, losing self-esteem or being shamed. Thus, we tend to deny, cover up our errors, rationalize or blame others in order to preserve our esteem and our positive self-regard.

Though it appears that there are no personal benefits for admitting one’s faulty behavior, studies document that confessing to wrongdoing serves well both the harmed individual and the offender.

In legal context, researcher Jennifer Robbennolt, a professor of law and psychology at the University of Illinois discovered “Contrary to conventional wisdom that admission of guilt can be damaging to defendants in court, the studies suggest that apologies can actually play a positive role in settling legal cases.”

In business, inadvertent or intentional misconduct or poor judgment that gets discovered by colleagues or clients often welcomes no excuses, circumstantial explanations, insincere short apologies or silence – but welcomes a humble acknowledgement of one’s errors along with the admission of the harm inflicted on others.

In interpersonal offenses, apologies are expected to not only be uttered but to exude the essence of sincere regret and honest remorse. In addition to the words, the emotional expression must be repentant and convey an honest expression of regret, understanding of the harm and suffering inflicted on the victims and a truly sincere request for forgiveness as well as one’s readiness for rectifying the harm done.

Dr. Hamilton Beazley, the author of“No Regrets”lists the four parts of a true apology:

“1. It needs to have a full acknowledgement and taking responsibility for the bad behavior. 2. It requires an expression of sorrow. 3. It must convey efforts to repair the damage as much as possible and 4. It has to contain assurance that it won’t happen again.”

In couple relationships any hurtful words or behaviors should be promptly regretted and ameliorated. The sincerity of these apologies must be heartfelt. Coerced, “I am sorry” or “I am sorry you feel this way” or “I will try to change”, more commonly uttered by men, are often rejected by women as obligatory and not truly repentant words. Women, more often than men, require an emotional expression of regret, while men offer action corrections. These gender differences must be acknowledged and handled with respect and tenderness. Women need to help their mates learn how they wish to receive a sincere apology and men need to understand that practical remedies are only a part of the expressed regrets women wish to hear.

To honestly apologize:

  • Understand that as uncomfortable as apologizing is it is a necessary process in rectifying errors and restoring harmony to your relationship.
  • Accept that being humbly regretful and openly apologetic does not diminish you. It actually elevates you to a higher level of consciousness and provides opportunity to right a wrong.
  • View giving and receiving sincere apologies as strengthening your relationship intimacy.


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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