A distinguished psychologist colleague, Dr. Robert Gordon, recently presented a very informative TED talk, entitled, The Power of the Apology. This post provides a brief summary of his powerful message.
Most people apologize to get something instead of to give something. According to Dr. Gordon, seventy percent of our brains function outside of our awareness. Most of our flaws are out of our awareness as well. In short, we can really be clueless about how we impact others, especially those whom we love. Our brains are not wired for lasting intimacy and we, therefore, require emotional maturity to make our relationships last.
Given that loving relationships are messy by nature, the power of the apology plays a huge role in relationship maintenance and harmony. The three parts of a healthy apology are the following:
1) Acknowledgement - Being able to see how your actions impact others is key to making a sincere apology. The acknowledgement part of the apology needs to start with "I", For example, "I am sorry for being late tonight."
2) Remorse and Empathy - Remorse is truly feeling bad for what you've done. Empathy is about being able to put yourself in the other person's shoes and know how she or he feels. The remorse and empathy components of the apology would sound like, for example: "Lisa, I am so sorry I said that to you. I don't like myself for becoming that reactive and I know from when my brother was harsh and judgmental with me, just how much that can hurt."
3) Restitution - This means taking action to provide an act or service to make up for the transgression. So, for example, consider the husband who is short and abrupt with his wife when she is excited to share with him about her first day on her new job. The husband can provide restitution by offering to listen better after first preparing her a cup of tea and by doing some extra house work while she relaxes a bit.
Two other points offered by Dr. Gordon are that apologies need to be dose effective (depending on the situation, don't give one too small and don't go over the top) and time appropriate (the sooner, the better).
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Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist with over 23 years of experience specializing in child, adolescent, couples, and family therapy. He holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and completed his post-doctoral internship at the University of Pennsylvania Counseling Center. He has appeared on the Today Show, Court TV as an expert advisor, CBS Eyewitness News Philadelphia, 10! Philadelphia—NBC, and public radio. Dr. Bernstein has authored four books, including the highly popular 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (Perseus Books, 2006), 10 Days to a Less Distracted Child (Perseus Books 2007), Why Can't You Read My Mind? and Liking The Child You Love. You can follow Dr. Jeff on Twitter.