“Sorry” seems to be the easiest word. Not only do people toss out “I’m sorry” by default, but the phrase rarely registers with the recipients anymore.
That’s because the rationale or credibility for the apology is absent. People are forgiving in nature, but there are layers to this statement. For one, we can forgive without forgetting.
As well, forgiveness is often associated with wanting to move on as opposed to truly forgiving the discretion.
For an apology to truly be seen as meaningful, four factors must be explored to measure the sincerity of an apology:
1. Credibility: You’ve done this three other times and none of those apologies seemed to have mattered because here you are again! Or, your timing, intent, and sincerity seem convenient for you and thus your credibility is in question.
2. Timing: You screamed at me three weeks ago and now you’re finally apologizing?
3. Intent: You’re trying to score brownie points; I don’t think there’s any other reason for you to be doing this.
4. Sincerity: Your tone, words and body language. I don’t believe that you mean what you say here.
Apologizing For Scandalous Behavior:
Let’s look at the Ray Rice scandal and the apologies that came from it. Better yet, let’s look at the apology through the lens of these four factors:
1. Credibility: Although he himself may not have had a pattern, domestic violence with athletes has been. Ray, like it or not, is guilty by association in the court of public opinion.
2. Timing: He didn’t apologize until the video tape came out.
3. Intent: Hard to say but the court of public opinion says he likely apologized because the videotape came out, and he saw his future football life and lucrative deals evaporating before his very eyes.
4. Sincerity: Hard to say here but if the intent and timing were convenient for him, the sincerity will be questioned.
Stretching these four factors across the political landscape, politicians, athletes and entertainers have all found themselves under this umbrella. We automatically question their sincerity in light of their timing, intent, and past behaviors. Charlie Sheen seemed to have known this and stopped apologizing.
Instead, he became a caricature of himself and reaped the rewards of the new persona. Politicians that cheat on their wives make the scripted apology which, to the everyday observer, reeks of insincerity. Watching Gone Girl for the umpteenth time last night, I was reminded of how meticulous agents and PR folks can be about apologies, right down to how to answer follow-up questions in the wake of one. And although only a movie, it was given very high marks for its believability in this regard.
The day the public believes the apologies of celebrities, politicians and athletes is the day that they don’t seem staged and directly linked to the benefit of them.
Going back down to us mere earthlings for a bit, the apology – although very often and arbitrarily used – is easier to swallow. For one, we tend to have more personal relationships, be it as friends, co-workers or family, with those who apologize to us. In this, there’s a deeper connection and thus it’s not as easy to simply file them away. As well, the apology can be deconstructed by the person to whom it was made and that can lend itself to explanation and buttery words that can break down initial anger and spite.
“He’s cheated on you three times now!”
“I know, but I love him and we talked about the reasons. I believe he’s going to stop.”
Strictly from a Relationship Coach perspective, I believe that you teach people how to treat you. Accepting the same old apology for the same old infraction over and over again means that there are ultimately no real consequences for someone who does the same thing again; after all, they’ll just need to conjure up another apology. Unfortunately, we don’t do a very good job of teaching people how to treat us.
In the end, saying “I’m sorry” is the standard for a good apology, but those exact words are not necessary to equate to one. In fact, the more we use the phrase, the less impact it has. What’s more important is that the timing, intent, sincerity, and credibility are intact.
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