Here’s an important lesson I learned from one of my teachers, Dave Ellis: how to apologize. (He’s the author of one of my favorite books, Falling Awake: Creating the Life of Your Dreams) Dave said when you have to apologize, just apologize. Don’t elaborate. Don’t make excuses, even if the excuses show it wasn’t really your fault (like traffic).
I realized how often I want to justify myself and explain. This is related to my last post about turning down invitations and the lengthy explanations we want to give about that. (If you missed it, you can read it here.)
I want to show I was well-intentioned, even if I didn’t fulfill my commitments. It’s more about me than it is about the other person.
As I’ve tried to apologize in this clean and clear way, I’ve found it is an opportunity to practice self-regulation. I can say it and shut up, instead of excusing myself. It’s also an opportunity to be responsible. Excuses are ways to evade responsibility. Whether I was late for a meeting or a deadline, made a mistake, or unintentionally hurt someone, my behavior had consequences. My intention and all the external factors don’t change the consequences.
Now, once you’ve apologized you don’t need to do it again and again. When I find myself doing this, it’s also more about me than it is about the other person. I want to reassure myself by repeating my apology. I want them to help me feel better about what I did.
In some circumstances, sharing information may be appropriate–such as that Sunday morning when Zoom crashed at worship time in the Eastern time zone. However, in the ordinary course of our lives and ministries, there are plenty of times when we do make real mistakes and let people down. Those are opportunities to practice apologizing and keeping it short:
So, try this:
“I’m sorry I was late.”
“I’m sorry I forgot to ___________.”
“I’m sorry I lost my cool.”
Then stop talking.