Whether we’re saying sorry in our personal lives or in the professional environment, the initial goal is usually the same: to explain where we went wrong, and to demonstrate our commitment to change.
“Whenever we feel that we’ve been wronged by somebody, we look for some explanation,” says Alfred Allan, a professor of psychology at Edith Cowan University. “In psychology we talk about that as an ‘account’. One form of an account – and probably the best form of account – is actually an apology, which is me admitting that I understand that I did something that made you feel offended or hurt.”
Once we recognise that we’ve done wrong – that we owe an apology to someone – we say sorry as the first step towards conflict resolution.
“If I did something wrong, an apology is a way of showing that I’m not a bad person,” says Professor Allan. “If we’re looking at it from the victim’s point of view, the victim wants to understand the situation – they want to be rehabilitated socially, but also if it’s a relationship: ‘What’s going wrong here? Have I done something wrong, or is this person not trusting me?’ We want that information.
“Forgiveness is quite an important thing for us if we’ve been wronged, because forgiveness is really letting go of the hurt, letting go of the anger. It actually helps the victim to move on.”