The words "I'm sorry" play a big part in our daily lives. You might apologize while squeezing through a crowd or spilling something at dinner. We tend to easily say the words in these circumstances, but genuine apologies are a different story.
Even if you feel guilty for hurting someone, you might have trouble finding the right way to express your regret. How do you give a meaningful and sincere apology? How do you ask for one? With these tips, you’ll find that "sorry" doesn’t have to be the hardest word.
Therapist Unplugged is brought to you by The Montfort Group. Each episode will feature the unplugged views of guests and fellow therapists as we navigate hot topics, therapy trends and the world around us.
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Hi, welcome to therapist unplugged. This is your host Laurie pool of the Montfort group in Plano, Texas. And today I'm joined by Cory Montfort, founder of the mock for group, my colleague and longtime friend. And we are here today, Corey, after kind of an absence,Cory Montfort:
yeah, too long, we're gonna get better, we're gonna getLaurie Poole:
back and get back in our groove with regular podcasts. But today, we're going to talk about the art of apology. So there's something you need to say to me, I will not write this. If I did I know how to say it. So one, I had a personal experience with a relative, where I felt rather insulted. And I think after the conversation that person realized thought about it, felt badly about it and emailed me with an apology, that it said, I'm sorry for saying such and such, but I really think and so on and so forth, and then went on to explain themselves. And you know, after reading that, I just thought, Oh, this is worse than if they had said nothing at all. Yeah, I was infuriated. I felt totally misunderstood. And I felt like they didn't really understand why I would have been offended, because their intent was to again, push their perspective,Cory Montfort:
right, their intent was to talk about how they felt exactly, instead of about how you feltLaurie Poole:
That's right, exactly. And you know, I see this in my office too, especially when I'm working with couples, where one partner will say, How many times do I have to say, I'm sorry, we are still talking about this issue. Which, of course, leads me to ask now, what's going on here? Why the words I'm sorry, I think we're sort of brought up with, if we say please, if we say thank you, I'm sorry. Those are sort of the those are the pillars of good manners that I recognize if we've offended someone. But it doesn't really go beyond the words I'm sorry. And you can apologize without ever saying those two words. You can really zero in on how somebody feels or how that person was offended, or their feelings were hurt a moment in therapy this past week, where a wife came in and said, You know, I've been thinking, what it must have been like for you during that period of time, and how alone you may have felt when I was so focused over here, and felt like my kids really needed me. And I could just see all the emotion well up in this husband's face, like, wow, she really stopped and thought about what that was, like has and the words I'm so she did Sam's you know, I'm really sorry that I didn't, I wasn't able to be there for you. But it was embellished with all of these I can imagine I tried to put myself in your shoes. There were very empathic statements associated with recognizing what his experience might have been like. And it was just so powerful to watch this emotional connection between two people who have actually been quite distant for quite some time. It it changed the whole vibe in the room.Cory Montfort:
Yeah, I had a mother daughter this week that did that. And Oh, someone's phone is ringing.Laurie Poole:
Oh, of course, it's therapist and I just unplugged my phone.Cory Montfort:
Okay, great. Thank you for apologizing. So, oh, no, no, I had I had a mom and daughter than they were, you know, a grown daughter come in for family therapy with her parents and the ability for the mom who has been in a different dynamic right with this with her daughter, and to sort of re reinvent what it means to be a mother of an adult child and this adult child coming to you with the wounds that she felt, you know, growing up and and it took a little bit of work, but the mom got there where she could put down the excuses and the reasoning which were all valid, right? I mean, as a parent, you get it like you're just trying to do your best and and you didn't know at the time and but to get to a place where you can not explain yourself and just be in that other person's experience and say sorry, what do you who recommend how how does our listeners who maybe need to apologize, right? How do they get to that place of vulnerability? What do you recommend? First, to get to a place where they can have empathy?Laurie Poole:
Well, I would say first of all is, you know, think about what was going on for you at the time. Think about what you imagined the other person may or may not have gone through. Be curious. I think that's really important, because we can make assumptions about other people are fill in the blanks where we're not sure. I don't think you really want to do that. Yeah. It's funny, you should ask that question. Correct? Because I did a little bit of research. And I thought, what, what, what's the word out there about apologies. Because when I have couples in my office, I will slow everything down, I will stop. And I will say to the offending partner, for lack of a better word. What is it that you understand about what his experience wasCory Montfort:
like? Wow.Laurie Poole:
And it's possible, they don't really understand, you know, and then I might turn to the other partner and say, Can you help them understand what that was like for you? And when they start to describe the hurt, how it made them feel about themselves, what you know, I mean, it could be a whole litany of things. But when a partner actually listens to the hurt, the pain, what's difficult, then I might say, What did you just hear? What did you see? And I asked them to look like look at your survey, the observer? And then I might say, what is it you think you understand now? And then they'll feed that back to their partner? Well, I can see how hurtful that was, or I'm hearing it in a way that's different, I'm experiencing it differently. And I might say, cheese, what was so then I might say to the other partner, what was that like for you to share how hurtful that was, and how painful it was. And so we kind of, you know, it's, it's about that empathy, it's about focusing on the other person, you don't have to defend yourself, once you get into defensive mode, you're not even present, you're waiting to hear the thing you disagree with. And it's a missed opportunity. But if you can put yourself in that person's shoes just for a moment, you know, and say, Gee, I really think I don't know, I got the feeling that, you know, your feelings were hurt, something's going on, I can feel the tension. Tell me what's going on and make it all about them.Cory Montfort:
Yeah, I try to remind the listener of the complaint, that their job is to sort of take that helicopter view, right to be the observer, and, and into, remember how important this person is to them first. So, you know, like emotional intelligence for me is to be able to notice how I'm feeling as my partner is telling me that I wronged them or that I hurt them, and realize that that is the last thing in the world that I would want them to feel for me, they are the absolute most important person in the world to me, so I wouldn't want them to feel. So my reaction is, oh, let me explain myself. So you don't feel that way. But it doesn't take away the feeling. And so just to acknowledge you, I like basically, mirror back to them how they feel. You feel betrayed, you feel abandoned, you feel hurt. And as a person that I love dearly, that breaks my heart, I would never want you to feel that way. And so just acknowledging that the defensiveness comes from a genuine place of concern for that person to you don't want them to view you in a bad light.Laurie Poole:
Well, I think also defensiveness can be, can come from a place of wanting to explain ourselves, either because the behavior was missed or misunderstood, or we feel guilty, or, or, or we have some shame, or we just feel really badly about what's happened. And then we try to explain it away. Which actually can come later. I think you can sort of say, Hey, listen, you know what? I can imagine that was really, really hurtful. Can we talk about that? Because I feel terrible. Yeah. And I really want to hear from you and sort of process it that way and then say, You know what, I can understand why you would feel that way. And I just had a shitty day, and I was in foul humor. And I was short and I took it out on you and I feel really bad about that. Yeah, you know, and then that gives the other person also a little bit of context and understanding. You're right. It doesn't necessarily take away the pain. But I think it gives a little bit more flexibility to the exchange, for sure. I understand for sure. What wasCory Montfort:
the next step that I that I talked to partners about after they acknowledge that, you know, this person is the most important, you're the most important person to me, and I would never want you to feel that way. I know, I can't fix it all right now, or maybe all have, it's not mine to fix. But is there anything I can do right now to make you feel a little bit better? And so offer up the other person to tell you what they need, you know, give that responsibility back to them? Do you need a hug? Do you need some space? Do you need some time with me? But what is it that I can do right now to make you feel a little bit better? Because that's what I would love to do. And so I think, you know, that kind of vulnerability is required. And you really have to pop up out of the situation and not swing around with people's emotions, you know, and be offended that they were hurt. Right.Laurie Poole:
Exactly. And you know, what we've hit it's so interesting. Last night, I did a little bit of research about what what your southern professionals say. And so this was something I pulled from Psychology Today, which echoes pretty much the high points of what we've discussed this morning, for apologies to be effective, they have to be focused on the other person's needs and feelings not your own. This fundamental misunderstanding of who should be the focus of the apology is the reason so many politician athletes and other celebrities sound blatantly insincere when offering them publicly, and why so many of our own efforts are ineffective, because we're not trying to make the other person feel better. We're trying to make ourselves feel better. Yep. And then they give some some, some an outline of what should be included in an apology. A clear I'm sorry, statement. I don't know how I feel about I might put that on hold.Cory Montfort:
And don't say, I'm sorry, you felt that way? Oh, my.Laurie Poole:
God, a reaction? But I'm sorry, you feel that? Yeah. An expression of regret for what happened? And acknowledgment that social norms or expectations were violated? I don't know what that means. I mean, I do but you know, this is this is the one that I think is key these next to an empathy statement, acknowledging the full impact of our actions on the other person, or being curious, exactly like about what they are. And then a request for forgiveness, and sort of what you were saying is, what can I do to make this better? Is there anything you need for me right now thatCory Montfort:
because sometimes, people, you know, it's, it's relative to different people, and what their experiences and what they get offended by, and some people might not get offended by certain things, and other people, you know, whatever. So, so, it's, it's important to understand intent, you know, but then just apologize if they were hurt. But it doesn't mean that you know, you're a bad person or that you are trying to hurt them. Most of the time, that's not the case. You know. So it's not necessarily about if you would be offended by that. And I think I hear a lot of couples going, I just don't get it. I don't get why she's so upset about that. Why do I need to apologize? It's not a big deal. Right? Because they wouldn't be offended by it. And so but that's not the point. You know?Laurie Poole:
That's right. Well, in summary, then, Cory, I think we could say, offering up an apology isn't hard. It is something that requires thought there are components that should or could be included. The major takeaway is acknowledging how you imagined the other person must have felt, even if you don't understand why it was offensive, or you may not have found it offensive, to be empathic and to be curious and to offer up a question and have a conversation and to keep the focus on that person.Cory Montfort:
Yeah, sometimes I remind them, just pretend for a second that it's not about you. Just listen to it. If your spouse comes home and talks about this exact thing, but it was with someone else. You could probably have have empathy and you can see it but when it's about us sometimes we have a hard time extrapolating our own feelings outLaurie Poole:
of it. Exactly. Yeah. And then in closing, I would just say, this takes practice. Oh, lifelong. This takes practice different scenarios, different people and so on. But if you if you take a risk to do something different, I promise you'll land in a better place.Cory Montfort:
I'm glad we did this. Yeah, let's do it again. So let's not wait so long. Yeah,Laurie Poole: