As a professional mediator I have seen the power of the apology first hand. Practicing the 12-Step directive to "make a list of all persons we have harmed, become willing to make amends to them all, and make direct amends wherever possible" may be one of the best life practices you can incorporate. In fact, adopting this philosophy can drastically improve your relationships. Here is what you need to know about apologies:
1. A genuine apology can be very powerful and go a long way towards repairing a relationship. Even if you don't want reconciliation, an apology can bring closure and internal peace as well as reduce the possibility of negative repercussions in the future.
2. People in the wrong are often afraid to apologize; either because they believe that an apology will make them legally liable or open them up to blame and shame. However, we know that doctors who apologize to their patients for medical mistakes don't get sued nearly as much as the ones who take a more arrogant attitude.
3. Many of the cases that end up in court - especially consumer and workplace cases - could easily be settled by someone making a decent/sincere and timely apology. The problem is - usually - both people think that they have been wronged. It's often difficult to make an apology if you think that the apology should be made to you. Avoid this trap and base your actions on the big picture. Seek to see all of your disputes from the vantage point of the person on the other side.
4. People on the receiving end of the apology are often so grateful for the apology that almost anything works. You may simply apologize for the distress that the situation has caused both of you and your contribution to creating this distress. Or, if it’s more appropriate you may want to say "I made a mistake and I am sorry. Hopefully, I will never do this again."
5. Let the receiver know that it is not your intention to re-hash the situation - ALL you want to do is apologize. However, if you get a third person involved - someone to act as the mediator - you may be able to re-define the issues involved and see the initial conflict in a different light.
6. There are 3 possible responses to any apology (a) the apology is accepted and the parties go forward with the goal of re-establishing their connection, (b) the receiver accepts the apology and the parties agree to disagree and move on - with their connection severed, or (c) the party who is receiving the apology is unable to receive it and that is the end. Even in this instance the giver of the apology can feel that s/he has done her part - "kept her side of the street clean."
7. A sincere apology is one that is made with (a) no expectations for how the other side will respond; (b) trust that if the bond between us is strong enough it will be re-established so long as we are both willing to be open and honest, and if not, not; and (c) knowledge that people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime - and we dont usually know which or why.
An apology can be magical, cleansing, and healing. Who do you need to apologize to?