You Got This!

How to Apologize'

Sometimes apologies don't quite *feel* right, and it can be hard to figure out why. Often, it's because they weren't really apologies; they were performances made to deflect responsibility, excuse away behavior, and with the hopes of calming negative feelings. Whether you've received one of these types or given them yourself, this talk will allow you to recognize what makes a good and authentic apology and how to construct one yourself.

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Hey, thanks so much, Erin. And thanks so much You Got This Conf for having me today to talk about how to apologize. I think this is one of those things that is super-important and really undervalued. So, I'm really happy to be able to talk through this with everybody here today. So, we're just gonna get started with a little active participation. So, raise your hand if you've seen an apology in the last year that didn't feel like an apology. A lot of hands raised out there.

Raise your hand if you've given an apology in the last year? Oh. Not as many hands. I'll let you opt out of the next question, but I want to give -- I want you to give yourself an honest answer about this. In the last year, have you given an apology that wasn't really an apology? I know I have. And I know that pride and lack of empathy and my inability to admit guilt have all gotten in my way when I've given apologies.

We've seen a lot of apologies on the news and in social media and you can tell them, they're like cringe-worthy, right? They're pretending to apologize. But it doesn't feel quite right and you're like, well, that's not really an apology. That's a performance that's made to deflect responsibility. To excuse away behavior. Or with the hopes of calming negative feelings against them or against ourselves. You know? Waiting for the next news cycle, so to speak, to begin. And so, I think that for me, I've taken a lot of time recently for software -- self-reflection and humility to try to get to a point where I can give an apology without a "But." I'm sorry, but I was...

The fact is, the reason you behaved that way, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that you authentically apologize. And maybe this will open a conversation about why something happened and you can share. But what you want to do is make sure that you apologize authentically. And that you do it to help restore that relationship. Just so you know, I am not a professional apologizer. But as the technical community builder at Deepgram, a maintainer of the developer community Virtual Coffee, mom of four kids and a wife, I can assure you that I have many opportunities to practice apologies. And I don't always get it right.

But I have been trying to do my best to learn from those experiences and to understand the importance of the apology. To be thoughtful as I go through and make that apology and I resist that urge to say, but I was... whatever. So, hopefully what I've learned will help you too. We're taught from a young age that we should apologize when we do something wrong. That might include hitting a sibling who annoys us or breaking rules. But things often get more complicated as we get older. It's not so clear. And it's not just, I'm sorry. Period. Right? So, I think it's important that we learn more about what this looks like for adults. And how to acknowledge and to break down some of these complexities. So, what is an apology? So, in the case -- in the way that we're going to explore it today, we have three parts. You need to be able to admit that you done something wrong. You want to express regret. And then lastly, you should share your intention to rectify the situation now if possible, but in the future as well.

So, as we move forward, we're gonna dive into this a little bit more. But we're going to take a look at some unsatisfactory apologies. And a lot of these might sound familiar. If I did behave inappropriately, I'm sorry. If I did hurt anyone's feelings, I'm sorry, I didn't need to. I'm sorry you feel that way. I was drunk. That's not how I normally behave. Sorry about that. I didn't mean it like that. You're the one that started it. I'm sorry, but I didn't mean it like that. I'll apologize if you do. Fine. I'm sorry. It's the construction of the apology and including those three parts that we just talked about that is really key. So, is tone. So, as I read through these, you can hear the inflection and you can sense the change in the way that I am apologizing. It might be angry or frustrated at the other person. Nonchalant, insincere. All of these things will impact whether or not your apology is genuine and actually meaningful to the other person that you are apologizing to.

So, let's talk a little bit about when you should apologize. There are plenty of opportunities to apologize. And I have a list of four here. When you have been incentive, when you have acted inappropriately, when you've acted irresponsibly, when you have been inconsiderate. There are a lot more reasons to apologize. But I think these four basic ones really hit on a variety of different categories. So, there are a couple there that we name. But there is a lot of things that can fall into that category. So, sometimes it can be easy to tell if you should apologize. Maybe you made someone cry. Or someone yelled at you or they called you out on social media. You almost can't not respond to those situations. Right? You've done something and there's a response that you can see. So, whether or not you're sorry for it, you know that this is something that you need to think over and maybe an apology is due here. But there are gonna be times where you don't know that you hurt someone. You don't know that you've made a mistake or that you were incentive. Just because you didn't know doesn't mean that it doesn't warrant an apology.

I know for me, one of the things I struggle with is interrupting. I have ADHD and I often get very excited when somebody is telling a story or when something pops into my head and I jump in. And that's not an excuse. And it's okay to apologize. There is nothing shameful about it. But what I did was interrupt them. And it's okay to apologize in that situation. But for me, it's work to recognize where are the patterns that I repeat that I need to be aware of? And how can I work on that behavior? So, I think that there is a couple of strategies that we can use to remove that ambiguity of whether or not we have done something that warrants an apology. And the first would be to build self-evaluations into your life. Think about what you've done over a certain period of time. The relationships that you have, the health of those relationships.

And maybe you recognize that there's some tension building. If there's tension, then you might want to reach out and talk to the people involved in that situation and get their feedback. And I think as part of this process, it's all about growing, right? Apologies are not about being stuck or being ashamed. They're about growing as a human being. So, as part of that, building feedback into your life becomes really important. It could be feedback from the people that you're working with. Asking them to evaluate you as a collaborator. It could be from a friend, it could be a partner or someone else that you've interacted with. But this will help to give you a sense of how you're impacting others with your behavior. And then the last part is to try and create clear past paths of communication. When you do have clear paths of communication, it might be easier for someone to approach you and say, hey, you really hurt my feelings when you said that, or, hey, I really would appreciate it if don't behave in that way again. All of these are ways to better identify scenarios where maybe we behaved in a way that warrants an apology.

So, why should you apologize? Again, there are many reasons why you should apologize. But these are some of the top reasons. And I think it's important to explore these reasons when you go to make an apology. Because like I said before, authenticity matters. If you don't have a reason for apologizing other than wanting to get out of trouble for you're stealing you're little sister's toy, then it's not a true apology and it doesn't show contrition for what you've done wrong.

I think reactionary apologies often miss the mark because the apologizer hasn't taken the time to consider the impact of their actions. And so, what I mean by a reactionary apology, you're in the middle of maybe a heated argument or something. And you recognize that there's something wrong and either you want the conversation to end or you know you have done something wrong and you can't quite understand what you did do wrong. And you say, I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that. Oftentimes when we have those quick "I'm sorries," we haven't thought it through. And I think it's okay to say, I'm sorry in those moments. It's totally fine to do that. But what's more important after that is the self-reflection that comes to help you avoid that behavior in the future.

So, if you don't have a reason to apologize, or if you don't think you have a reason to apologize, so, maybe somebody wants an apology from you and you don't think you should apologize. You think you have nothing to apologize for. That's another place for self-reflection. Ask yourself why. Why are you resisting an apology?

And some of the reasons that we want to -- we should apologize are to repair damaged relationships. It's to grow as a person. To change wrong behavior. To accept responsibility. To restore your reputation. And also, to give the wronged person a chance to respond. I think that all of these things are really important. And as part of an apology, you can -- there doesn't have to be a conversation, but there can be a conversation. So, it's important to be prepared to have that conversation. To allow that person to share why what you did made them feel a certain way. Or what the words that you used, how that impacted them. It's important to remember, again, that apologies are not a sign of weakness. If anything, they demonstrate that you're strong, you're willing to grow, you're empathetic and you're willing to invest in your relationships with others.

Okay. So, now this comes to the part of the talk where I talk about how you should apologize. Okay? So, be sincere. You should be -- sorry, you should find some reason to be sorry. At the very least, you've hurt somebody. And if you're thinking with an empathetic mind, then you can be sorry that you hurt their feelings. But you should want to change your behavior and not repeat that action or that inaction. Sometimes we can upset people and we need to apologize because we haven't done something that we said we should. The apology shouldn't stop at your words, though. You have to change along with that apology.

You need to take ownership over your action or inaction. So, focus on your behavior that caused the issue and not the other person's response. It shouldn't be, I'm sorry you were mad. It should be, I'm sorry I didn't acknowledge your feelings. And I laughed when you shared. Admit that you did wrong. Don't come with a "But." You can't say, I'm sorry, but... that means that you're not really sorry.

Be specific. So, think about what happened. Was your behavior rude? Was it incentive? Inconsiderate? Negligent? Rash? Or accusatory? What was the result of that behavior? Was somebody embarrassed? Did they feel pain? Did it break trust? Was somebody physically hurt? Without specificity, it's gonna be really hard for the person that you're apologizing to, to recognize whether or not you're actually sorry. If you can't name what you did wrong, the apology will fall flat and demonstrate that you don't care that much.

And lastly, you want to make amends and change. Ask if there's anything else you can do to make it better. Don't promise anything that you can't do. So, for example, if you know that you struggle with interrupting people, don't say I won't interrupt again. I know that that is not a promise that I can make. Because it's a struggle for me. But what I can do is I could promise to work on that behavior. I can share that I'm working with my therapist to find better waying to control my behavior and my inclination to interrupt. Or think about what your behavior is and how you can change that. How can you make that progress? A big part of all of this is being vulnerable and being humble. You need to recognize as well that you might not be forgiven. That happens. But what you can do is learn a lesson and apply what you've learned going forward.

So, here is kind of a formula for helping you to construct an apology. And I think that this can be really helpful. I know that there have been other situations that I've worked with my therapist on where I have a hard time communicating something. And she's given me a formula that I can follow along. And I will say, it will sound very robotic if you use this exact formula. This is a place to get you started in understanding how to construct these four yourself. But remember, we want you to have that remind their there's admission. There's regret. And there's an intention to change behavior.

So, I'm sorry for doing whatever the thing is. That caused these feelings or these results. And I promise to take action to not do the thing again. Please let me know if there's anything else I can do to make this right.

Again, I don't recommend delivering it like a formula. Or reading it off of a note card. Although I know that a lot of times that if I'm giving an apology that I've kind of rehearsed in my head, I get really nervous that I'm not going to say the right thing. And I definitely have wanted to take a note card with me just to make sure that I can stick to it and don't let me emotions take over and say the wrong thing. But remember, we're human beings and what's important to remember is we're delivering what we're saying. We want to come off as sincere. This is a really good place to get started to practice. And remember it's not just simply: I'm sorry. So, we did some examples at the beginning of the talk. And we're gonna revisit those. And we're gonna use this method to rewrite those.

And as you're out there listening to this talk, if you have heard a good apology, let's keep it not your own personal stories. But if there's a good apology you have heard in the news or on social media and off link to that, go ahead and drop that in the chat. Because I think another way to become better at how to apologize is to look at how other people are apologizing as well. Having good examples is always super-important to learning and growing with that.

Okay. So, let's take a look at some of these apologies.

All right. The first one. If I did behave inappropriately, I'm sorry. Okay. So, first of all, we've got that "If." If. You're not acknowledging that you've done something wrong in this scenario. So, this is why this does not pass our how to apologize test.

You did behave inappropriately. So, this is -- this is me rewriting. I'm sorry for telling you to shut up and for making you feel like you didn't deserve to be listened to. I will work harder to listen to opinions that I don't agree with and to be respectful in conversations.

Next one is, if I did hurt someone's feelings, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. I didn't know that word I used was bad. Okay. So, there's a lot of deflection happening here. If we've got that word again, we don't want to use that. But I didn't know. So, you're already explaining away your behavior and you are deflecting your guilt. It is okay that you didn't know what that word meant. But it doesn't matter at this point. You've hurt somebody and so, you say, I'm sorry for hurting your feelings or the feelings of so many people when I used that incentive language. I will not use that language again and I will do my best to elevate the voices of the underrepresented community. This is dependent on what you have done and the language you have used. I remember that I said don't promise anything that you can't keep that promise. But there are sometimes where we most certainly better keep those promises. So, if you do make a mistake that you don't to want repeat again, or that you know I should never, ever make that same mistake again, then you make that promise and you stick to that promise.

I'm sorry you feel that way. So, again, it's not that I'm sorry for my behavior. I'm sorry because you feel that way. But otherwise, I'm not really sorry for what I did. We rewrite this with, I'm sorry I hurt your feelings and left you unable to complete your tasks when I quit the committee. Oh, I should have forwarded this example. Sorry about that. I should have promised to fulfill my responsibilities to my teammates from now on. The old, I was drunk and that's not how I normally behave. Sorry about that. Deflecting your responsibility again. I'm sorry I was rude last night. My behavior is inexcusable and I will talk to my therapist about my problems with drinking.

I didn't mean it like that. I'm sorry for saying -- enter the word there -- and that it hurt your feelings. I will not use that language again. You're the one who started it! I know this is me. I'm guilty of this one. This is one of the ones I'm worst at. Especially in the middle of an argument. I always want to deflect blame on myself. Doesn't -- doesn't really matter who started it, okay? I yelled. And I should be sorry that I yelled and that I was angry. I should be sorry that I made someone upset. Okay? My behavior. Doesn't matter what they did. It's the same thing. If anybody has kids, you know is that there are often these arguments of, they started it. He hit me first, she hit me first, doesn't matter. You hit that person. And now you need to be sorry for hitting that person. And you need to not do it again. Right? And so, what could be added to this is, oh, okay. So, I do have -- I'm going to work on communicating my thoughts without raising my voice.

I'm sorry, but I thought you wouldn't care. And sometimes this is like one of those actions of -- or inactions. It's an omission of something. You didn't do something. And somebody was hurt as a result of that thing. And so, it's okay to be sorry for that. Even if you didn't realize it was going to hurt them. I'm sorry I didn't ask you to come with us. And I made you feel unimportant. I value our friendship and I'll prioritize making sure that you're included.

And lastly, fine! I'm sorry. I am also very guilty of that one. And that's just one to end the conversation often or to end the argument. And so, what really needs to happen is some self-reflection. And understanding what's going on. But in the moment, a good: I'm sorry that I spoke angrily to you and damaged our relationship. I'll try to take time to think before I react angrily and to approach the situation with more empathy.

I want to highlight just a couple of things here after we've done these examples. If you have trouble communicating in intense situations, and I know this is definitely an issue that I have, it's okay to set boundaries before you do something that you'll regret. So, before you yell, for example, say to the other person: I'm feeling really overwhelmed in this conversation right now. I would like to pause this and return to it once I've calmed down.

Another option might be, if you know you're going to have a serious conversation with somebody or that it's coming soon say, I know that there is this issue that we need to talk over. Can we set a time to do that so I can mentally prepare myself for that. When I get into the mindset that I'm going to have this really hard conversation, it's easier for me to keep my cool during that conversation and to think through it a little bit more clearly without being overwhelmed by emotions.

If you find that you're repeating that same apology over and over, it's going to feel disingenuous, right? You want to take steps where you're not repeating the same thing over and over again. You don't want to regret the same thing. You regret it and you are committing to changing that behavior, then you need to do that.

Maybe you find that arguments are always happening right before dropping the kids off at school. That can be a really stressful time. Maybe the solution is making sure everything is ready the night before and you agree with your partner to not talk about any serious decisions that need to be made before that school drop off, okay? So, those kinds of things, setting those kinds of boundaries can be really helpful.

But it's important to know that apologies aren't a one-time thing. It's not one and done. They take work. They can be really hard. And they're likely to be a whole conversation or more. When you express your intention to make up for the situation, this is a process that will likely extend far beyond the conversation. It might require active work to continually show that you will do better. It's not going to be going on a press tour to meet with nonprofits who represent everyone that you've offended, right? It's taking action to do better. To not repeat your mistakes. And to continually work on yourself. Apologies are about growth. And not about weakness. And I want everyone to remember that.

Thank you!