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The Power of the “Perfect Sorry”

This piece is prompted by the furore caused by Shinzo Abe’s recent apology for the “immeasurable damage and suffering” committed by Japan during the war.

“I bow my head deeply before the souls of all those who perished both at home and abroad. I express my feelings of profound grief and my eternal, sincere apologies”- in my opinion, this sounds like a fairly solid apology. However, the recipients (South Korea, China) were not impressed- South Korea’s president said that the apology left a lot to be desired, China called the apology “evasive”

The crucial element that was missing from the apology was the “remedy”- what are you going to do in future, how are you going to make the situation better. In this case- “reparation”. If he mentioned this element, the apology would probably have been better received.

In work and private life, the ability to admit mistakes and apologise meaningfully is important- it helps you build relationships and is a sign of strength and humility. Unfortunately, most people are really bad at saying sorry. Some things worth remembering when you are saying sorry:

• Just because you say that you are sorry, that does not mean the other person is obliged to forgive you.
• The “I’m sorry but…… ( you are being emotional, acting crazy, being unreasonable…) does not count. Know that anytime you insert a “but” in a sentence, it negates anything you say preceding it.
• Same goes for “I’m sorry, I did not mean to/you took what I was saying the wrong way…..etc” – saying this is seen as an attempt to absolve yourself of blame, or blame the other person for an incorrect interpretation of your (virtuous) actions/ words.
• The other person is allowed to vent, express their anger when you say sorry. The correct response in this situation is a version of “ I can quite understand that you feel this way, and I am so sorry” NOT “ I said I’m sorry, what else can I do/ get over it”
• Be prepared to say “sorry” more than once, in fact, as often as it takes.
• And most importantly , you have to say what you are going to do differently, how you intend to repair the damage done

Shinzo Abe, are you listening?

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