Why are We so Bad at Apologies and Accountability?

Why do we apologize? Is it because it’s the right thing to do? Because we feel guilty and want to make ourselves feel better? Do we actually feel remorse for our wrong doings? I’d argue, most of the time, many of us aren’t apologizing for that last reason. We apologize because it’s a cultural norm that we have come to expect when some person or party is upset, but do we ever actually reflect on what we’ve done? What we’re saying now? The impact of both of those actions. From what I’ve seen, societally, we do not do either of those reflections, and I think it’s impacting our ability to progress and move forward.

A Lack of Accountability

I’m no expert, but think of the apologies you hear, are they usually caveated with an excuse? Have you ever seen someone (typically not of the targeted/hurt party) hand waving away the need to apologize? Or saying that it’s fine because you didn’t know better? This is someone trying to absolve you of accountability. You’ve done something wrong, in most situations that doesn’t make you a bad person.

A Culture of Niceties Avoidance

Also, we ignore the things that make us uncomfortable, societally we are taught that confrontation is bad. So, we just push past offenses, brush them off until they fester. So, often there are times when we are owed (or owe someone else) an apology, we’ve never had to actually grapple with that so when someone requests one of us, or confronts us about our misstep we get defensive. That defensiveness in and of itself is a mistake.

A Better Way to Apologize

But this is a lot of talk about why we all suck at apologies, but how do we improve? Here are some steps to take when it’s time to apologize:

  1. Take a moment to reflect on what you’ve done and the feedback you’ve recieved
  2. Acknowledge what you’ve done and the impact it has
  3. Apologize to those specific impacted parties, they are the ones who have been hurt
  4. Do better in the future

When possible, that last piece should be included in your apology. This could be as simple as “next time I won’t do XYZ” however, even if you have yet to identify a solution you should take steps in the future to be better, consistently.

This advise can be used for work complications, a social faux pas, or honestly any situation requiring an apology. Do you give poor apologies? Do you think you’re good at them? Let me know in the comments.

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