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I Owe You What?

Two weeks ago in my article, The Wrong Way To Apologize, I gave you four examples of apologies that, in my opinion, were not genuine apologies.  In last week’s article, A Genuine Apology, I told you about a recent experience I had where I ended up apologizing to a hotel clerk for the way I treated her after she was not able to fulfill a commitment that was made to me by another employee of the hotel.

As a reminder, here are the details of the apology I wrote about last week:

After asking my guardian angel and the clerk’s guardian angel to help me do and say the right things, I walked over to the clerk and said, “I owe you an apology.” She looked at me with a puzzled look on her face.  At that point, I said, “I checked in last night…”  She cut me off and said, “Yes, I remember you.  Did they get everything straightened out for you today?”  She glared at me with an angry look on her face.  I responded, “Yes, everything got worked out, and I owe you an apology.” She was still glaring at me so I continued, “I’m sorry for the way I behaved last night.  I had no right to take out my frustrations on you.  During the entire time you were dealing with me, you were courteous and professional.  You’re the type of person any business owner would love to have as an employee.”

The look on her face completely changed and she said, “Oh, that’s ok, don’t worry about it.  I’ve had customers who were worse than you.”  I responded, “No, it’s not ok.  I’m sorry for the way I treated you.” As she looked at me in disbelief, I said, “I said a prayer for you today.” I didn’t know what else to say, so I walked away.

The dictionary defines the word apology as “an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.”  That particular definition only covers one of the five components that I think are necessary for a genuine apology.  Here are my five components in chronological order:

1. Before you approach another person to make an apology, say a prayer asking our Lord and our Lady for the grace, humility, courage, assistance, and guidance to help you make a genuine apology. If you really want to play it safe, also ask the guardian angel of the person you’re apologizing to and your own guardian angel to help both of you say and do the right things;

2. While looking the person in the eyes, make a sincere statement of regret (e.g., “I’m sorry for the way I behaved last night.  I had no right to take out my frustrations on you.” or “I apologize for being late.”);

3. After the statement of regret, while still looking the person in the eyes, make a complimentary statement about an admirable quality of the person. If possible, the complimentary statement should be about a quality that is related to the activity the person was engaged in when you committed the error or offense (e.g., “During the entire time you were dealing with me, you were courteous and professional.  You’re the type of person any business owner would love to have as an employee.” or “One thing I respect about you is that you’re always organized and on-time for your commitments.”).  The complimentary statement is a critical component of a genuine apology.  The statement has the potential of (a) redeeming you in the eyes of the other person; and (b) repairing your relationship with the person.

4. Avoid making any excuses for your behavior and avoid saying anything that may get an “oh, that’s ok” reaction, or a sympathetic response from the other person. If the person responds by saying “it’s ok,” or “don’t worry about it” (or makes a similar statement), refocus the conversation back on the person by apologizing again or making another complimentary statement (e.g., “No, it’s not ok.  I’m sorry for the way I treated you.”); and

5. If you’ve already said a prayer for the person you’re apologizing to, tell the person you said a prayer for him or her.  If you have not yet said a prayer for the person, tell the person that you’re going to say a prayer for him or her. This is a very powerful component of a genuine apology, because it shows that you are truly sorry for what you did and you have made (or are making) an effort to do something extra for the person.  The act of letting the person know you have said a prayer or are going to say a prayer is not only beneficial to the both of you, but also helps to repair your relationship and redeem you in the eyes of the other person.

So let’s take a look at why the four apologies I told you about in my article two weeks ago were not genuine apologies (besides the fact that no prayers were said and no complimentary statements were made):

1. I’m sorry for the way I responded when you asked me if I wanted to order some apple pie, but it really irritates me when I specifically say that I don’t want anything else and I’m still asked if I want to order apple pie! (This is not a sincere expression of regret.  It’s a defiant attempt to justify the prior inappropriate behavior and reprimand the person all over again for asking about the apple pie.)

2. Yes, if it will make you feel better, I apologize. (This is not a sincere expression of regret.  It’s a condescending statement that is meant to make the person feel stupid for expecting an apology.)

3. I’m really sorry for the way I treated you yesterday, but I wasn’t feeling well.  I guess I just lost my cool. (The making of an excuse immediately after the expression of regret is a subtle attempt to blame the bad behavior on an outside factor.  By making an excuse, the person making the apology fails to accept full responsibility for his or her behavior.)

4. I’m so sorry for being late.  I got caught up in traffic. (Another excuse.  If the person’s old enough to drive, he’s old enough to figure out what needs to be done in order to be early for a commitment.)

The five components I’ve outlined above for an apology to be genuine apply to situations in which you’ve committed an error or a personal offence against another person; however, the components do not apply to most business situations.  In the hotel example I told you about last week, if I had been dealing with the manager of the hotel, my behavior would have been acceptable, regardless of whether or not I offended him.  Unlike the hotel clerk who had no authority and was defenseless, the manager would have been in a position to either solve the problem or influence upper management (in the future) to change hotel policy on the overbooking of rooms.

When we commit an error or an offence against another person (except in certain business situations), a debt (obligation) is created toward that person.  At the point in time when we commit the error or offence, we become obligated to the person to make a genuine apology.  In other words, we’ve become indebted to the person.  When we borrow money, a debt is created and we’re required to repay the debt by returning the same amount of money that was borrowed, plus interest.  The appropriate way to satisfy an obligation that was created when we committed an error or offence against another person is to make a genuine apology.  The expression of regret takes the place of the repayment of the debt, and the complimentary statement and prayer for the person takes the place of the interest.

If you take another look at my article from two weeks ago, you’ll see that I told my relative that he “owed” me an apology.  Last week I wrote about how I told the hotel clerk that I “owed” her an apology.  On occasion, I will tell a family member who has personally offended me that he or she owes me an apology.  It’s a good way to start the conversation that must take place before the healing process can begin.

Would you do me a favor?  The first time you use my five components to make a genuine apology will you say a prayer for me?  Also, feel free to let me know how it works out for you.

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2 Responses to “I Owe You What?”

  1. Colleen Says:


    This is pretty humbling coming from one of my Williams brothers. It has so many lessons for all of us. Keep up the good articles. I have half of St. Louis reading them. Have a Blessed Christmas and a Prosperous, Healthy 2012.


  2. Harry Says:


    Good to hear from you. I’m in the office today catching up on email and other things that go by the wayside during the week. Thanks for your encouragement and kind words.

    Happy Birthday! The years fly by don’t they?

    I hope all is well for you and your growing family. A blessed, healthy, and prosperous new year to you also.

    Take care,


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