Let’s face it. Mistakes happen. It’s not something intentional. But without thinking, we can do some major damage in an instant.
I’m not speaking about the automobile kind of fender bender. I’m talking about the time our brain goes on park and we say or do something hurtful to someone we care about.
There’s no insurance adjustor to write a check and make the damage go away. It’s pretty much just you and whoever it is you offended.
I asked an expert to offer some sound advice on apologies and share her strategy for a good outcome. For everyone involved.
Dr. Sherene McHenry is a highly acclaimed relationship expert, author of Pick: Choose to Create A Life You Love, and an internationally recognized speaker. Lucky me when I was assigned Dr. McHenry as my advisor in grad school several years ago…
And now lucky you; You’re going to meet her right now.
About Dr. Sherene McHenry
Sherene radiates enthusiasm from every pore in her body. She’s passionate about what she does and has a charming way of clapping her hands when she hears about someone else following theirs.
She’s that excited.
Individuals and organizations who want to improve their relationships in order to be more successful and have more fun find their way to Sherene.
She’s that good.
I figured Sherene was the perfect professional to ask, “How Do You Apologize After a Fender Bender?”
Read on to see what she says.
Have you ever bought a new car? Relished its glossy, gleaming perfection? Protected and babied it? Avoided dings by parking it as far away from other cars as possible? Despite every effort on your part, has every car you’ve owned still accumulated scratches and dents? Been involved in fender benders and collisions?
The only way a new car stays pristine is if: 1. It remains parked in a garage and never driven; or 2. It is cared for and returned to the shop for routine maintenance and body work.
Relationships are a lot like cars. They start off gleaming and shiny but over time dirt, dings, fender benders and accidents accumulate. Like vehicles, relationships need attention and restoration work if they are going to stay beautiful and work properly.
While I am far from perfect, I strive to be kind and considerate. I’m confident you’re the same. Unfortunately, by virtue of being human, we all dirty up, ding up and create fender benders in our relationships.
Sometimes all that’s needed to repair a relationship is a simple heartfelt apology. Regrettably, many people have never learned how to apologize, or worse yet, been taught along life’s way that the person who apologizes is the person who loses. While that may be the case in destructive relationships, nothing could be further from the truth in healthy relationships where both parties care about each other and desire to protect and nurture the relationship.
As someone who still causes fender benders far more often than I would like, here are my guidelines for delivering apologies that repair relational damage.
- Speak from the heart. I’m sure you’ve been on the receiving end of forced apologies before and know firsthand how something that sounds cold, distant & flippant creates even greater damage. On the flip side, a heartfelt “I’m sorry”, “I regret” or “I was wrong” goes a long way toward repairing relational dings and fender benders.
- Acknowledge responsibility. “I’m sorry I offended you” is very different and far more healing than “I’m sorry if you were offended”. One builds a bridge. The other widens the rift.
I’m not advocating you sell your soul by lying if you don’t feel you did anything wrong. That’s not good for any relationship. At the same time if the person is offended, hurt or angered by what they perceive you did or didn’t do, you’ll never go wrong with “I’m sorry I offended you. That wasn’t my intent.”
- Commit to doing better in the future. “I promise to do better” or “You can count on me in the future” provide a much needed safety net for future interactions.
Here’s the bottom line:
You and I will continue to makes mistakes, say things we regret and inadvertently bump into people we care about. If you offer an apology containing all three components — heartfelt words, acknowledgment, and a promise to improve — it will almost always be accepted.
On the other hand, if you’ve been involved in multiple collisions, you’re going to need a good mechanic — a highly skilled marriage counselor or relationship professional — who will help you repair the damage and learn new skills so the same problem doesn’t reoccur.
Hope to see you soon in a shiny new convertible. Minus the dents!
You can read more about Sherene and her life skill hacks on her website at sherenemchenry.com.
One more thing from me . . .
Expressing an apology is the first step in getting over an argument. But what happens next? How do you begin to smooth all those ruffled feathers?
The next time you’ve had an unpleasant altercation with your mate, close friend, or family member, try this:
- Wait to talk until you both are no longer upset.
- Give up the idea of being right. Don’t focus on details. Focus on how you feel.
- Verbalize your understanding of how the other person feels.
- Quash any impulse to defend yourself.
- Accept that it will take a while to feel better so set a time to check in and monitor progress.
Getting into an argument is a little like hitting a golf ball into a sand trap. It’s best to avoid it at all. But if you find yourself in the middle of a disagreement, take a deep breath, let the tension die down, and then using the above guidelines as tools, get yourself back in the fairway as quickly as possible.
Do you find yourself constantly arguing . . . and then apologizing? Are you able to recognize when an apology is necessary and then follow through and actually do it? Or are you someone who always thinks the other guy is at fault? Can you take the 360 degree walk around your disagreement and see it from another’s perspective? Never forget there are always two sides to every story and the same goes for an argument. It’s not about who wins or loses. It’s about who can understand both perspectives.