All apologies: Why saying 'sorry' isn't so easy to do in public — and why it's important

·2 min read

It isn't always easy to say you're sorry — particularly when it needs to be said in public.

Over the past month alone, three MHAs — Perry Trimper, Barry Petten and Jim Lester — have made public apologies in Newfoundland and Labrador's House of Assembly.

Under St. John's psychologist Dr. Betty Rodriguez Rubio's guidelines of what makes the "perfect" apology, the ones that came from our elected officials over the past few weeks came up short.

But Rodriguez Rubio says that's likely because it's far more difficult to deliver a genuine apology in public.

"It's important to consider context," she told The St. John's Morning Show. "Sometimes a proper apology … is really hard to do in certain contexts where it might be a little bit of a career-ender or get you sued."

Apologizing is a vulnerable process. When it comes to public apologies (in the House of Assembly, in front of all of your colleagues, constituents and political rivals, for example) the vulnerability can make things complicated, or even risky.

"It is not a safe space to be vulnerable, because people can attack you on all sides," she said.

Dave Keeshan/Flickr
Dave Keeshan/Flickr

The 'perfect' apology

There is a way to make the perfect apology, and Rodriguez Rubio says the first step is to admit wrongdoing and take responsibility.

Then you have to show that you understand the effect of your actions.

"Empathize with the other person," said Rodriguez Rubio. "Name what you will do differently in the future so that it doesn't happen again. Make amends … and see how you can make the person that you've wronged feel better."

The backwards apology

When people apologize by saying things like, "I'm sorry you feel that way," or "I'm sorry you are offended," they're putting the responsibility on the person they're supposed to be apologizing to.

"That is where problems begin, sometimes, because then the other person feels really angry," said Rodriguez Rubio. "We can suspect that this is not a true apology."

Making an apology is important for people on both sides, and Rodriguez Rubio said there are plenty of positive side effects that come from giving a true, genuine apology.

"Taking responsibility and being accountable strengthens your sense of self and it actually increases your sense of integrity," she said.

"So in many ways, it makes you stronger because, you know, apologizing is a vulnerable process. And it is something that makes us a little bit more courageous."

Listen to Dr. Betty's interview with The St. John's Morning Show here.

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