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  • Writer's pictureMartin Sanders

Why is it so hard to apologize?

Entire volumes can be written on ineffective apologies. Some people just suck at it. For others, poor apologies are their single greatest gifting in life. Still others refuse to do it.

I was riding across northern Nigeria on a coach bus with 27 professionals from various countries and states of the US. One physician asked the question, “Do you know any wife who will apologize to her husband?” The men at the front began a conversation that grew increasingly awkward. I asked them to keep their voices down so this did not become the discussion of the entire bus, as many of the women were congregated in the middle of the bus. By the end, it had turned into a meaningful though near riotous conversation that fortunately moved beyond gender to why apologies are so difficult.

When our family lived in Canada and the two older kids were beginning high school, we all came to the realization that apologies needed to be strengthened in our family. Our family improved its approach well for a season for which we were all grateful.

Fast forward twenty years. I discovered in my early fifties that one of the reasons our family was less effective at apologies than any of us would like was probably my fault as the dad. It did not take long to understand why. In my family of origin, my older brother was killed in a car accident when I was 10, my next brother was drafted into the Marine Corps and sent to Vietnam. We continually waited on reports and often heard stories of his close friends perishing. In that same era without warning, my father died suddenly of a heart attack. I had just turned 15 and lost the men in my family and life seemed dreadfully hard for a teenager.

When I became a father, I made every effort to make sure my kids had a different life. I discovered I gave a lot, but I also expected a lot. But kids are kids, especially as young teens. And once they had done something thoughtless and gave a very brief sorry dad, it seemed hollow and empty. After all, I had given them a lot and I expected a lot and forgot they were just kids. I think I taught them that their apologies were never quite sufficient enough. Or at least that’s how I saw it.

It became clear once again that our family needed to up its game with effective apologies. I had made the suggestion to other families and so thought it was time to take my own advice. I had suggested to others that they read Kenneth Blanchard’s book, The One-Minute Apology: A Powerful Way to Make Things Better. My suggestion to families sounded like this- Send a copy to each of your family members and ask them to read it before your next gathering. If you can’t read the whole book, read these 3 chapters. If you can’t, read at least these 7 pages. If that is still too much, read at least these 3 paragraphs. Please read as much as you can thoughtfully so a discussion can happen within the family. I watched it work magic in families.

Now it was our turn. It clearly was my responsibility because of how I had communicated apology disapproval to the kids. It was my responsibility to correct it.

The timing was so crucial. In approximately 18 months after this personal revelation, Dianna’s illness began, which lasted for nearly 5 years. Our family needed to pull together and understand each other at new levels we had never experienced. Nothing in life is magic. But learning to apologize well comes close. It may be time for you and those you love to learn the art of a one-minute apology.

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