By: Tina Baiter
Recently I was reminded of a very important lesson – a lesson you must learn if you’re not perfect. And my guess is since you’re human, you’re probably not perfect. That means you’re going to make mistakes from time to time in your life. If you want to keep your friends or business associates after you make those mistakes, you have to know a few important secrets about getting forgiveness.
Secret 1: Be Sincere
People know when you are sincere in your apologies and when you are just saying them to get out of trouble. Sometimes you may think you are being sincere, but the words you use to offer your apology are anything but words of sincerity.
Never start an apology with the words, “If I have. . .” or anything with a similar meaning. Think about it. The moment you start a sentence with the words, “If I have,” you are indicating to the person listening that you don’t own your mistake.
I have a friend who likes to offer her apology to an entire group. At least once every few months she realizes she has made a mistake, and when we are together as a group, she blurts out, “I want to start by saying, if I have offended any of you by my recent actions. . .” I always look at her in amazement because those words tell me two things:
1. She doesn’t know what she is apologizing for.
2. She doesn’t care enough to address the actual issue one-on-one.
Secret 2: Mistake vs. Choice
Not understanding what you are apologizing for is the second most critical thing you can do when you offer an apology. Don’t get me wrong, you probably know the “event” or “incident” you are apologizing for. In fact, you will use the words to describe that event in your apology sentence.
1. “I am sorry I took credit for your idea in the meeting last week.”
2. “I am sorry I got grass stains in your $200 pair of blue jeans you loaned me.”
3. “I am sorry I never called to cancel our date when something else came up.”
When you give an apology you always know what it is for, but what you probably do not know is the “what behind the what.” An apology is either something offered for a mistake made or for a choice made.
A mistake is something you had no knowledge of before hand.
The examples listed above would be mistakes if:
1. You and your co-worker had never discussed the idea together beforehand and inadvertently came up with the same presentation.
2. You were at the park walking the dog when someone came up behind you and pushed you down into some wet grass.
3. You were in an accident and had no access to the phone to contact the other person and cancel.
A choice is something you deliberately did despite what you already knew.
The examples listed above would be choices if:
1. You had talked about the idea with a coworker and then opted to present it as your own idea to get praise.
2. You put on the borrowed blue jeans to play a game of football with friends and ruined them.
3. Someone else invited you to do something more exciting, and you opted to do that without thinking to call you friend.
People can forgive a mistake, but it takes time to forgive a choice.
Secret 3: Time
My guess is the majority of times you have to apologize in life, you will not be apologizing because you made a mistake. You will be apologizing because you made a choice. Know the difference when you start your apology, and then realize that it will take time for people to trust your future choices again. The longer you have been making the bad choices, the longer it will take for people to trust the new you. But give them time.
[Ed. Note: What is the hardest apology you’ve ever given or received, and how did you handle it? Share your stories below. Want to learn more ways to build your character, purchase our Living Every Minute audio cd program.]