The Languages of Apology

Posted: 04/05/2018

Have you ever said sorry to someone, and yet you know they have not experienced your apology as authentic? Somehow your sincere apology did not land. This may be more likely to happen when the offence is perceived as a grave one. But it can also happen with seemingly small transgressions.

Within families, among friends, with work colleagues, in teams and community groups, hurts can take place with alarming regularity. Navigating them, genuinely trying to make repairs and learn the noble art of forgiveness, are essential ingredients of respectful relationships. Not only that, they are the balm that soothes our own wounds.

But saying sorry is often not easy. And saying it in a way that it can really be heard is a great skill. It requires empathy, humility self-awareness and a genuine desire to make amends.

 In their book The Five Languages of Apology, authors Dr Gary Chapman (relationship counsellor) and Jennifer Thomas (psychologist) offer some thoughts about what makes an apology more likely to open the door to authentic healing and repair. They present five basic languages of apology which together, make up a complete and full apology. They also say that we each have our own preferred language, which may not be that of the person we are apologising to. For our apology to resonate with the other person, and for us to be able to hear an apology we are being offered, it is useful consider the language of apology being used.

The five basic languages of apology as presented by Chapman and Thomas are:

  1. Expressing Regret – ‘I am sorry’
  2. Accepting Responsibility – ‘I was wrong’
  3. Making Restitution – ‘What can I do to make it right?’
  4. Genuinely Repenting – ‘I’ll try not to do that again’
  5. Requesting Forgiveness – ‘Will you please forgive me?’

You can identify your own or another’s apology language by asking questions such as:

  • What do I want the person to say or do to help make it possible for me to genuinely forgive them?
  • What hurts most deeply about the situation?
  • Which language is most important (or do I usually use) when I apologise?

by Karen Bedford

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