Making an Apology and Complaining Effectively

Most people find it difficult to apologise.  It can be a big blow to one’s ego admitting that one might have been wrong about something they said or did.  Our egos cannot cope with the fact that we are not perfect human beings and don’t always make the right decisions or say the right thing.

By the same token, many people have difficulty complaining effectively and tend to avoid confrontation.  Most people don’t like to create a ‘scene’.  The easy way out is avoidance.  They don’t go back to the restaurant where the food or service wasn’t acceptable.  They stop seeing people who said or did something upsetting without saying why.  If you don’t complain effectively, how can the restaurant improve?  If you avoid people who have upset you, how can that person change something about themselves to improve the situation?  If you don’t say what is bothering you, how will the other know that an apology may be in order?

About this time last year, the relationship I was involved with ended.  Just like that.  No dialogue or forewarning.  The most difficult thing about the relationship ending wasn’t the fact that it ended, but knowing why it ended.  I wasn’t given any reason other than the relationship had changed and wasn’t like it was before.  No kidding!  How vague can one be?  No matter how I tried, I really didn’t get anything more than that.  I found it very frustrating and hurtful.  Things weren’t perfect, but what relationship is?  I knew things didn’t feel right for the last few months, but I couldn’t put my finger on it and didn’t know why.  It was just a feeling.

The real problem was communication, or lack of.  I pride myself on being able to communicate effectively.  It has taken me years to develop this skill.  It is important to me to be understood.  Have I made myself clear because I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding? 😉  However, there are times I don’t communicate effectively, or at all.  There are times I don’t like to ‘rock the boat’.  By ‘handling a situation’ rather than being completely and utterly open and honest (I thought I was being mature) about my feelings, I was actually controlling a situation.  My control freak tendencies had not completely dissipated.  It is something I need to work on from time to time.  If I had completely and utterly expressed myself during difficult situations and honoured my feelings, would the relationship have ended sooner?  If my partner communicated to me things that were bothering him as and when they occurred, rather than after he ended the relationship, would the relationship have survived?  We will never know.   However, the relationship lasted as long as it had to in order for me to learn that open and honest communication is the key to any successful relationship.  (Well, I knew that, but didn’t always practice it.)

By not saying what is bothering us, we build up a huge pile of resentment within.  The key is to complain effectively, but many people do not know how.  It is actually very simple.  I wrote about it here.  The Daily Temperature reading teaches us how to communicate effectively at the most basic level.  If you complain, you must follow it up with a recommendation.  This is the nicest way to complain.  You are already telling the other person what is bothering you and you are also telling them what would make you happy.   There are no guarantees that the other will listen effectively or apologise, however, you have opened a door and provided insight.  By the way, I did use this method of communication in my previous relationship, but not always.  In order for it to be effective in relationships, it must be done constantly.

As I stated earlier in this post, the ego can’t handle criticism.  It automatically puts us in defense mode when we come up against any form of criticism or perceived negativity, even when put to us in the nicest possible way.  The ego is what stops us from making an effective apology or any kind of apology at all.  The ego stops us from really listening to the other person and caring about their feelings.  The ego is all about me, me, me!  The ego makes excuses for their behaviour and tries to justify actions.  Sometimes the ego will go on offensive mode and make it seem as if the person doing the complaining is the one with the problem.  It is at this point when things can go horribly wrong and further dialogue becomes useless.  The ego has shut down the situation and has gone into overload.

So, what does one do?

Step 1:  If someone has the courage to tell you what is bothering them and you get a little twinge of ego, pause.  Yes, pause.  Do not react!  Take a deep breath, count to 10, do anything but respond straight away.  Overcome your ego, become pro-active.  Listen!  Look at the other person.  They were very brave to tell you their feelings.  They could have been working on it for days or weeks!  If that person is of some importance in your life, they may have been weighing what the outcome might be, good or bad, and hoping for the best reaction.  Even if they are not that important in your life, that person is a human being with feelings and needs to be listened to.  Acknowledge their humanity.

Step 2:  Look at yourself.  This is one of the most difficult things to do and is one of the most important.  Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  If the other person has ‘hit a nerve’, well, maybe they have a point!   What may be important to the other person might not be so important to you, however, you cannot put your standards onto other people.  If the issue was big enough for the other person to mention it, then it needs to be seriously looked at.  Remember, this isn’t about you!  Well, it might be about something you did or said, but the situation is brought to light by the other person, so this is about them and you need to look at how your words or actions have an effect on others.

Step 3:  Apologise.  Do not make excuses or justifications as it will only null the apology and it won’t be sincere.  This is the most common mistake people make when offering an apology and can cause nothing but further problems.  It is a guarantee to lose friends and alienate people.  If you don’t care about anything other than yourself, then this isn’t going to be a big deal for you.  If you do care about others and feel there may be room for improvement in your personal development and relationships, then this method of apologising can be the easiest to master.

Before writing this article, I already knew the best way to apologise.  I wanted to see what was out there in cyberspace to confirm what I instinctively knew and found this link , one of many.  It is good to know that I can trust my feelings to know when something is right or wrong.

If you are on the receiving end of an apology and it isn’t going quite as well as it should, you need to look at your complaint.  If you complained effectively and the other person is not apologising effectively, then you may need to pause.  We all have choices.  Sometimes people need space and time to reflect on their actions.  If a sincere apology comes our way after an unsuccessful attempt, we have the choice to accept and move on.  Even if it doesn’t, we have the choice to accept and move on.  Either way is a win-win situation.  We either improve relationships with others or we weed out those that drag us down and make room for those that will treat us with respect and consideration.  Best of all, we create a wonderful relationship with ourselves.

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2 thoughts on “Making an Apology and Complaining Effectively

  1. Excellant words as ever, I enjoy reading your blogs. Hope you are keeping well and getting done what you wanted to get done. Happy new year
    Julie

    1. Hi Julie,

      Thanks so much. I am well and hope you are the same. I am thinking big things for 2012!
      All the best,
      A xx

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