There are plenty of times when you'll have to apologize in life, but is there a time when you shouldn't say you're sorry? Yes! Here's how to recognize when to throw out a mea culpa and when a frank discussion with your friend is required instead.
Apologizing With the Expectation of Receiving an Apology Back
Sometimes people start off a discussion with an apology, even if they haven't done anything to be sorry for. They do it with the expectation that their friend will take the hint and apologize as well. While this can work occasionally in starting a discussion, more often than not the real issues never get addressed. What happens is one person apologizes and the other feels that they are on good terms. The one who apologizes may then feel bad that their friend ignored their feelings.
While every friendship is different, a discussion generally needs to start out with a request to talk rather than an apology.
For example, saying:
- "I was bothered by what happened at the park yesterday. I'd like to talk about it when you have a chance."
is more straightforward and clear than:
- "I'm sorry about what happened yesterday."
In the second example, your friend may think you are taking responsibility for the incident and that the issue is closed.
In another example, saying:
- "Are we okay? I feel as if things have been tense since I went back to school. Do you have time to talk about it now?"
gives a clear indication to your friend that you'd like to talk it out. This is much better than saying:
- "I'm sorry I've been busy with school. Are you mad at me?"
In the second example, you are letting your friend know you suspect there is anger involved on their part, which may be incorrect. This could make any misunderstandings that already exist that much worse.
Apologizing When Your Intentions Have Been Misinterpreted
Very often apologies get watered down when we feel we are saying sorry for something we really didn't do. If, for example, your friend thinks you have been ignoring her but you've seen her as much as ever, it can signal a need for more attention. Perhaps she is going through a clingy phase due to an issue like a job loss or other major lifestyle change. In this case, saying, "I'm sorry" in and of itself isn't going to cut it. You have to identify the real problem at hand.
You also should not give a non-apology, or an apology that is void of responsibility. If you say, "I'm sorry you feel that way" it doesn't address the underlying issue or make your friend feel better. In this example, avoid starting off with an apology but probe to find out what the issue really is and talk it through. When you discover the real problem, you should acknowledge your friend's hurt (whether you meant to do it or not) by apologizing, which could go something like this:
- "I'm so sorry you have been feeling neglected. I never meant to hurt you, and I thought everything was okay between us. I don't want you to continue to feel bad, your feelings are important to me."
This is better than a simple, "I'm sorry you feel that way" because you are acknowledging your friend's hurtful feelings and letting her know you weren't being careless with her emotions.
Don't Apologize As a Ploy to Get Out of Arguing
If you're afraid of conflict, you may be someone that apologizes quickly in order to avoid an argument. While maintaining peace is a worthy goal in a friendship, if you're consistently apologizing without talking through the underlying issues for your disagreement, it could create an unbalanced relationship.
When one person "gives in" more than the other, resentment can build and cause a huge blow out down the road that might even end the friendship.
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