MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The New Year is often a time for reflection. And we’re taking some time this week to help you be better in 2022. We’re revisiting some of NPR’s Life Kit podcasts to help you out. Today we’re focusing on how to say you’re sorry.
SIMRAN SETHI, BYLINE: I feel like I know it at the gut level. But why is it so hard to apologize?
HARRIET LERNER: It’s a vulnerable place. You have no control over how the other person will react.
KELLY: This is Life Kit host Simran Sethi speaking to Harriet Lerner, clinical psychologist and author of “Why Won’t You Apologize? Heal Great Betrayals and Daily Wounds.” And Lerner has some tips and a lot of ideas on how to get a correct apology. Tip # 1 …
LERNER: A sincere apology or a good apology does not include the word but. The corn makes your excuses bogus.
KELLY: Tip 2: don’t apologize too much.
LERNER: If you forgot to return your friend’s Tupperware, you don’t have to overdo it like you run over her kitten. Excessively apologizing creates a distance. It interrupts the flow of normal conversation. And it will irritate your friends.
SETHI: So don’t overdo it. But also – this is take away 3 – do not underestimate.
LERNER: When you apologize for something important, you have to show genuine grief and remorse. But when you start, you know, crying or saying how bad you feel, you’ve apologized for yourself.
SETHI: And that brings us to point 4: focus on the issues at stake and on the person who has been harmed.
LERNER: Apologies are what reduce the intensity and create an emotional climate in which another conversation can take place.
SETHI: This is an essential point to remember. An apology is the beginning, not the end. It creates space for a stronger connection. And that connection, Harriet says, should be deepened by the person apologizing.
LERNER: No apology will make sense if we haven’t really listened to the anger and pain of the injured party. The hurt party wants to know that we really understand, that we validate their feelings, that we care about their feelings. Realize that for something serious, an apology is a cross country race.
SETHI: So now that we have a clearer idea of what excuses to make, let’s come back to an excuse not to make.
LERNER: The way we spoil an apology is by focusing on the other person’s feelings or reactions rather than apologizing for what we said or did. I’m sorry I offended people by the joke I told at the meeting. It was not my intention. These are not excuses. A good apology will focus on the words or behavior for which you are sorry first, rather than implying that you are really sorry that the other person reacted the way they did.
SETHI: So here’s a challenge. What if someone comes up to you and says, I want you to apologize for X, and you don’t feel like you’ve done something wrong?
LERNER: We don’t apologize for something we don’t think is justified. I mean, that wouldn’t make sense.
SETHI: But there are times when we maybe can’t quite see the error in our ways, but maybe we should.
LERNER: When you are faced with something very painful, there are exaggerations and you don’t want to hear it, set the intention to listen to the essence of what the injured party needs you. understand and then be able to define your differences and say, you know, that room you wanted an apology for – I thought about it a lot. I don’t even recognize myself in this photo you portrayed of me, and I see it differently.
SETHI: None of this is easy. But Harriet has one final takeaway to help us get through these difficult conversations.
LERNER: We’re wired for defense. We will automatically listen for distortions, exaggerations and inaccuracies. We listen to what we disagree with so that we can defend ourselves and correct the facts. So I want to challenge our listeners. Make it your intention to listen only to what you can understand. You will listen to try to figure out the essence of what this injured part needs you to get, and even if it is only 5%, you will apologize for that 5% first.
SETHI: There you go. Thanks to author and clinical psychologist Harriet Lerner.
And now for a recap. To raise your excuses, tip # 1 – no ifs and buts. Tip 2 – don’t overdo it. Keep your attention on the injured part, not on how you feel. And be authentic. This is Tip 3. Tip 4 – Stay focused on the current conflict, not all of the divisions that came before. Tip 5 is to remember that an apology isn’t meant to be the way out of a difficult conversation; it’s a powerful way to connect with someone. So here is tip 6: be responsible, courageous, and share what you are truly sorry for, even when you feel defensive and want to shut down. Try to meet the moment with an open ear and an open heart.
KELLY: Life Kit host Simran Sethi speaks with clinical psychologist Harriet Lerner.
On the Life Kit podcast, you can get advice from a range of experts on fitness, finances, and parenting. Download Life Kit on the NPR One app or wherever you get your podcasts.
ARI SHAPIRO, HTE:
If you find yourself constantly scrolling through TikTok or Instagram and feeling unwell, check back tomorrow for some Life Kit tips that will help you move towards a healthier relationship with social media.
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