Yesterday I listened to an exchange between a husband and wife. This couple was “finishing” an argument and trying to get toward the apology. But the apologies were falling on deaf ears.

As if I had nothing else to do, I starting to wonder: what’s an apology? How do we apologize for the things we should apologize for and how do we apologize for the things that aren’t our fault but we want to acknowledge?

What’s the difference? A full apology acknowledges blame, accepts responsibility, expresses regret, and doesn’t offer excuses. Here, the person promises not to repeat the behavior, asks for forgiveness and may offer a way to make things right.

There’s another kind of apology: the rapport apology. This is an apology where you’re trying to rebuild a relationship, smooth a conflict or establish a connection. With the rapport apology one doesn’t accept responsibility for the situation, but instead they want to acknowledge the other. For example, I’m running late and I call my partner to say I’m sorry for running late. My partner says, “I’m so sorry – just drive carefully.” My partner is not taking responsibility but is just establishing a connection and understanding about what’s happening.

The big issue with apologies is which apology is occurring and whether it resonates for both parties.

Miscommunications in the apology often arise due to the differences in the apology. For example, we may assume someone is accepting blame when they’re not. We may then feel frustration when there’s no change in behavior, which is what we anticipated happening, like with a full apology.

Unfortunately, this couple didn’t understand which “apology” was occurring. Couples, friends, family members need to talk about which apology is on the table, so that miscommunications don’t occur during the repair period.

Tied to the apology is the notion of validation. Validation is the recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings/opinions are valid and worthwhile. Generally, men and women seek and give validation differently. Men tend not to seek validation because they assume they are doing something correctly unless told otherwise. Women seek validation, not because they think they’ve done something wrong, but just to understand and listen to the the other person’s point of view. Women use more nonverbal ways of validation, men often need outward information for validation. These differences mean that men seem too overly confident (when they are not) and women appear unsure, also when they are not.

What does all this mean in the case of the couple I was listening too … well they didn’t get to a good point and both stormed out of the coffee shop. Honestly, I think they both were trying … they just miscommunicated.

What does this mean for us? I have no freaking idea. 🙂 I guess it’s a good reminder to think about our own process of apologizing as well as our expectations re. someone else’s apology.