I’m not really good at apologizing. I’m great at saying “sorry” in the heat of the moment when it is obvious someone is upset, but not at truly sitting down with someone and apologizing for my behavior. Apologies are more than just saying “sorry,” in response to someone’s hurt. Apologies are sitting down and owning up to my own end of the confrontation.
For example, I was having a pretty bad week when a co-worker sent me a text letting me know that I would be running the financial office the following day. I’m not really fond of working the financial office. Numbers aren’t my thing and I’m always worried that I’m going to mess up somewhere along the way and get into trouble. I was already stressed from the events of the week and I took it out on my co-worker.
I laid into her, telling her she should have given me sooner notice than eight in the evening the night before. I told her it wasn’t fair to me and that with my anxiety problems, dropping bombs like this on me isn’t okay. I expressed that I wasn’t happy and reacted altogether poorly toward her. She was sick and had worked all evening to find someone to cover the phones for me so that I could help people in financial. She was sick as a dog and I was passive aggressively texting her about how upset I was.
I’d made it all about me, and while there may have been justification somewhere in there, I hurt her feelings. I was rude, I was unprofessional, and my actions were completely uncalled for. Yet I felt like I had been wronged and the world needed to know about it. In short, I’d been a complete asshole to someone who definitely didn’t deserve it.
The following Monday she came in and asked if I was “over Friday,” and that reopened everything. I tried to justify my actions to her and said it had to do with my anxiety, and blah blah blah. All of my justifications fell on deaf ears as I saw the anger in her eyes. She snapped at me and told me she had expected better. She had been sick and needed me to cover for her, just like she would cover for me whenever I needed it. She stormed out of the room and I sat there stewing in my own angst.
It was her fault, wasn’t it? If she weren’t so sensitive, if only she’d see my side of things, if only she would listen. Then as the afternoon went on I began to slowly realize that I was angry at her for the same thing she was angry with me about. I hadn’t seen her side of things, I had been overly sensitive, I hadn’t listened. Instead I’d been an asshole. I’d yelled at her and then proceeded to follow-up with ridiculous justifications instead of apologizing. I was the one in the wrong.
So I did the uncomfortable thing. I called her that evening and apologized. I left a voicemail because she wasn’t taking my calls and I told her that I realized I’d been an asshole and she didn’t deserve it. Regardless of what I had been going through, my reaction to the news that I’d be working financial was unprofessional and uncalled for. I was in the wrong, I was sorry, and I hoped she could forgive me.
She did. We talked it over the next time she worked and our relationship was strengthened because of it. It was a lesson learned, and one I’ve been thinking a lot about. Growing up I never really received real apologies. Most of the confrontations I entered into where I was hurt were just swept under the rug and everyone pretended they had never happened. I’d taken this model and applied it to my own confrontations. Except when healthy, functional people are involved? We can’t just sweep it under the rug and pretend it never happened. Pretending it never happened harbors resentment and resentment straight out sucks. It is better to apologize and admit, honestly, that sometimes I can be wrong. Even if I can justify my actions, justification isn’t worth the price of a broken friendship.
Bob Goff says we should give ourselves three tickets every year for three big mess-ups. They’re our ticket to let it go. However, there’s a caveat – we can’t just let it go if the mess-up hurts a relationship. If someone else is going to be hurt then there’s no get out of jail free card. There’s just admitting I can be an asshole, owning the hurt I’ve caused, and moving forward in the light of forgiveness.
Louis CK says, rather profoundly, “Self-love is a good thing but self-awareness is more important. You need to once in a while go ‘uh, I’m kind of an asshole.’”
We’re all going to be jerks in our lives, and there’s no weakness in sitting down and admitting it. If anything, it opens up the lines of communication with those we may have hurt. Personal justification is not worth the destruction of personal relationships. Be quick to apologize, but do so meaningfully. I have a feeling it will change your relationships for the better.