Back in August, my girlfriend and I went out for dinner at a local sushi joint in Waterloo called Kinkaku. If you’re not a local, let me be clear; Kinkaku is a pretty big deal and is supposedly the epitome of sushi awesomeness in its price category.
Having just finished a gruelling day at work, I was exhausted when I picked my girlfriend up from her place. Nonetheless, I was stoked to try this local gem.
Upon arriving at Kinkaku, I bopped up to the counter and excitedly asked our server for a table. The response I received figuratively shattered my world.
“There’s an hour and a half wait. Can I get your name?”
It was at that moment, the hangry beast within me took over and lashed out at the server.
Our brains are incredible organs that enable us to conduct magnificent feats; one of which includes running simulations. We can be posed a situation and our brains seamlessly transition into a state of visualization, thus enabling us to experience those settings without even having to physically experience them. For example, imagine what it would be like if someone came by and stomped in your toes. You can fully play that out in your head, feel the physical pain on your foot, and most importantly, feel the emotion associated with it.
Even in my state of hanger, my simulator went to work right away and I thought to myself: “Is it really her fault we have to wait? I’d feel awful if someone spoke to me like that and would be pretty pissed off at the person for lashing out at me.”
I ended up apologizing to our server for snapping at her. To my genuine surprise, she not only said it was water under the bridge, but she praised me on my ability to muster up the courage to actually apologize, and gave me a crisp high five!
Apologies can be a tough social encounter primarily because they require us to admit to our mistakes. That being said, delivering a strong apology can reveal a lot about your character, is a crucial life skill, and can potentially strengthen your rapport with the person you’ve wronged; at least it did for me and the Sushi Lady (I can’t for the life of me remember her name). With that in mind, I’ve distilled the act of giving an apology into what I believe are 5 critical steps.
Step 1: Specificity is Key
In order for an apology to carry any weight, it needs to be specific. It’s imperative that the person you’ve wronged knows what it was that triggered the uneasiness in the first place. Simply saying “sorry” doesn’t cut it and any of you in a relationship, I’m sure, can attest to this! The details in the apology also demostrate a greater level of thought and conviction which is likely to illicit a more positive reaction from the other person.
It might look something like this: “I’m so sorry for lashing out at you when you asked me for my name” Carries a lot more weight.
Step 2: Stand in their Shoes
Our brains are stellar simulators that can allow us to empathize. This is an incredibly useful tool when it comes to formulating an apology because it shows the other person you’ve taken the time to understand their perspective and that you truly feel what they might have felt. At the end of the day, humans are emotional creatures. Thus, expressing a level of emotion in your apology, courtesy of empathy, packs much more of a positive emotional response.
For example: “I’m so sorry for lashing out at you when you asked me for my name so that you could add it to your waiting list. That must have made you really upset, and to be honest, I’d be really pissed off about it too.”
Step 3: Expose the Jugular
When two wolves get into a fight, the wolf that is on the losing side submits itself to the mercy of the dominant wolf by exposing it’s neck. This is a sign of subjugation by the weaker wolf to the alpha, signalling to it that it has lost the battle. More often than not, the winning wolf will spare the life of the other because it is well aware of the strength in numbers.
Like wolves, people are social animals; which is why admitting to a wrong you’ve committed when apologizing to someone is a simple way to diffuse a situation. Like one wolf submitting itself to the mercy of the other one, owning up to a mistake shows a degree of vulnerability that most people will not take advantage of.
Phrases like “I’m in the wrong” and “I was out of line” can add a level of susceptibility to your apology.
Step 4: For God’s Sake Do it in Person
This is crucial. Sending an apology via text, email, or Facebook messenger is never acceptable because they lack the richness that other forms of communication offer. Electronic methods of communication are at the tail end of the media richness scale since the tone of your voice, facial expressions, and body language are all lost in translation and worse, they are subject to the interpretation of the person you have wronged. Irrespective of how well thought out your apology maybe, you are communicating with an individual that is upset with you and therefore, it’s vital to take any and all measures necessary to ensure they do not misinterpret your message. If for some reason having a face to face conversation is not feasible, in preferential order, video chats and phone calls are the next best options.
Step 5: Hug it Out
Only do this if you receive the formal consent of the other person.
Hugs are awesome and actually release happy hormones in our bodies. Oxytocin is a hormone that reduces our heart rates and stress levels; two things people usually exhibit when they’re upset with someone or something. Oxytocin is also responsible for feelings of intimacy, trust, and plays a key role in forging relationships. This also happens to be why we shake hands with people who we meet, respect, and are about to engage in business with. The great thing about Oxytocin is that it is released into the bloodstream of both individuals engaging in the handshake. However, according to Dr. Paul Zak, hugs can release 5-7 times more Oxytocin than a traditional handshake. Therefore, after the apology, cement the good will, burry the hatchet, and let bygones be bygones by releasing some happy hormones with a handshake, or if appropriate, go for a hug!