Monday, April 20, 2009

Indirect Apologies

The other day I said something offensive to a colleague about his appearance. I didn't mean for it to be offensive, and in fact, I lumped both of us into the same category. Basically, we both work hard on our appearance and diet, neither of us has much to show for it. You should have seen his face! While I could tell he felt I was right about *me,* he certainly didn't appreciate my noting he had a similar problem.

As I went back to my desk, I wondered if the best way to handle it and avoid future office tension would be to go up to him and apologize. So I did. I started off with "hey, I'm not the best with people, but I'm learning, and it occurred to me that what I said was not exactly polite. I'm sorry."

Despite his earlier look of shock and anger, he insisted he didn't know what I was talking about. I wanted to keep re-hashing it, when I remembered something my husband said a long time ago:

Not everyone is as direct with you. Sometimes people apologize indirectly, and expect you to respond indirectly.

I realized he was accepting my apology indirectly, even though I was rather upfront about it. By pretending nothing bad happened, he was accepting my apology without rehashing it. This is considered polite in some social circles, and always used to throw me off. If a guy kept insisting he didn't know what I was talking about, how could he accept my apology? This used to confuse me, because I would never tell someone I didn't know what they were talking about unless that was the truth.

So I laughed, said, "hey, if you don't remember, I'm not going to incriminate myself," and went back to my cube. I spent the next hour or so pondering the different ways people apologize-often indirectly. My apologies are fairly simple: "I'm sorry, I was wrong, and I'll try really hard not to do that again," and I think that many Aspies are the same.

So, below I give some examples of indirect apologies and hope this short list will help fellow Aspies. Many of us learn best by cataloging experiences, so feel free to add to this list by leaving a comment. You'll be doing future readers a favor!

Examples of indirect ways people apologize
  1. They might go out of their way to do something nice or extra special for you. Buying flowers, chocolate, offering to do one of your chores or errands. Things like that.
  2. They might start being friendly to you again (after they've done something to upset you) without ever mentioning it. This is hard for me, because I don't like unresolved issues, and want to get things out on the table. But for some people, getting it out on the table is too direct, too rude. We must be careful not to confuse this with trying to USE us (ie do us wrong, then come back and do us wrong again). If the person is not just trying to take advantage of us (to use our car, money, body, etc) then the expected "I forgave you" response is to be friendly in return. There is no need to mention the problem.
  3. They might tell you they've forgiven you for something you did, but really they were wrong. I've had this happen several times, but did not recognize it because from my point of view the other person was clearly in the wrong. I would make a big stink out of pointing out they were wrong, not me, and totally missing the opportunity to repair the friendship. For example, I moved into a house that came with a dryer, but preferred to keep my own. I told a friend she could have the old dryer, but needed to pick it up by a certain date because I wanted the house clean to accept my first born child. She never picked it up. I gave her an extra month, and then told her I would sell the set. Two months later, she still hadn't come. So I sold it. My son came 3 weeks later, so I'm glad I did. Out of the blue, 4 months later, she told me she forgave me for not giving her the dryer. I was blown away. Forgive me? I gave her 3 extra months and many gentle reminders. This is when my husband explained to me that it was her way of apologizing. She knew she was wrong, but people just don't like to say they're wrong. It's too hard.

An indirect way to try and get you to apologize
  1. They apologize to you, even though you're the one at fault. This opens communication and is an excellent time to say, "You know, I've been thinking about it, and I'm really the one who is wrong. I'm so sorry." This is also used as a technique to smooth over relationships, especially at work,though it might not solve the problem of who is to blame. I have used this technique even though it sometimes makes me look wrong when I'm not. The work environment is more important than my pride.
General notes about apologizing:
  1. Try not to use the word "but," as in "I'm sorry, BUT..." or, "I didn't meant to hurt you BUT..." because most people interpret the word "but" as negating whatever you just said before you said "but."
  2. Be sincere. This can be hard for Apies, because we often aren't sorry for the action- just the consequence- and we sometimes feel dishonest when we have to apologize for something we don't think is wrong. If you're apologizing just to keep the peace, find something that you can really feel sorry for. You may not tell the other person this, but it will help you for being sincere. For example, you told Aunt Martha her quiche was nasty. You're not sorry for telling her, because it REALLY was nasty, and maybe now she'll stop making it for you every time you come over. And you're not even really sorry for hurting her feelings, because she obviously didn't care about YOUR feelings, or she would have asked you what you wanted to eat :-) But you DO care that your mother has grounded you for being rude, and you're very sorry that you are grounded. You might tell Aunt Martha, "I'm sorry about what I said (which is true because of the consequences of saying it). I didn't mean to offend you about the quiche- I just wanted to experience all those other dishes our family members keep talking about." Of course, if Aunt Martha is a horrible cook, you'll have to come up with your own second sentence or just cut it off at "I'm very sorry about what I said."
  3. Here's a great book on apology, which will help us understand that everyone is different- even when it comes to apologizing! The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationships

Now it's your turn- please add your thoughts to the list, preferably backed up with real-world examples.

3 comments:

Fleecy said...

Thank you for an interesting (and informative) post. I never thought about it that people might say something didn't happen, and seem really sincere like it didn't happen (I've seen people say "Ah... never happened" with like a shrugging gesture, to show they are blowing it off), as a way of accepting apology. That seems kind of weird to me.

I am the same way with apologies as you are, apparently. If I'm going to apologize about something I just come right out and say, "Hey, about [x], that was really [stupid/rude/whatever] of me. Sorry." or something like that... and I prefer direct apologies too. Indirect stuff confuses me and took me the longest time to grasp the concept of somebody might do something nice, to "make it up to you."

Cube Demon said...

I'm the same way as well with apologizes.

This indirect stuff confuses me as well. No wonder I've had many problems.

I don't understand this as well.

"They might tell you they've forgiven you for something you did, but really they were wrong. I've had this happen several times, but did not recognize it because from my point of view the other person was clearly in the wrong. I would make a big stink out of pointing out they were wrong, not me, and totally missing the opportunity to repair the friendship. For example, I moved into a house that came with a dryer, but preferred to keep my own. I told a friend she could have the old dryer, but needed to pick it up by a certian date because I wanted the house clean to accept my first born child. She never picked it up. I gave her an exta month, and then told her I would sell the set. Two months later, she still hadn't come. So I sold it. My son came 3 weeks later, so I'm glad I did. Out of the blue, 4 months later, she told me she forgave me for not giving her the dryer. I was blown away. Forgive me? I gave her 3 extra months and many gentle remindars. This is when my husband explained to me that it was her way of apologizing. She knew she was wrong, but people just don't like to say they're wrong. It's too hard."

How is this an apology? From my point of you, just like yours, it seems like she is blaming you for something she did. How is this derived as an apology? I do not understand.

SavedAspie said...

Cube, I don't understand it either, but that's the way some people are. They just can't bring themselves to say they are wrong, so they offer their forgiveness.

I would normally interpret an offer of forgiveness as them telling me *I'm* wrong. The way I'm *supposed* to interpret it is that the apologizer knows she is wrong and is hoping I will forgive her. I show forgiveness by saying something like, "thanks glad you're not holding it against me."

Now, *I* would normally interpret "thanks glad you're not holding it against me" as an ommission of error on *my* part, but what the other person hears is, "Girl, you were WRONG but I'm over it and we're still friends."

Please do not confuse this with gaslighting, where people confuse you by trying to change up the story to make you think you were wrong when they really were.