Interpersonal relationships at work, school, church and other social groupings play an important part in our physical and emotional happiness.
Whether one is talking about love, workers solidarity, business interaction or other commitment, the relationships continuously go through change during their existence. The opinions or approvals of other people occupy a significant place in building behaviours, beliefs, well-being and self- worth.
Thus, the conduct of one party, whether in a fleeting or enduring relationship, always affects the other party or parties. Sadly, for all the positivity,
relationships do run into problems of conflict, misunderstanding or breakdown. The pressure-cooker environment of everyday life poses endless challenges to the two processes of establishing and nurturing relationships.
Psychologist Linda Bloom makes the additional observation that, “in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are being presented with an opportunity to take a crash course in conflict management”. Thankfully, it is possible for relationships to be salvaged and restored. One of the often-underplayed ways of doing so is the use of apologies.
Soccer star Yaya Toure issued a public apology over “an unfortunate joke” this week. He followed the apology by withdrawing from this year’s Soccer Aid Unicef charity football match. World number one singles tennis player Novak Djokovic defaulted from this year’s US Open tournament after striking a ball, which hit a line-judge. He issued a moving apology after the incident.
Professor Cass Sunstein says that, “an apology is a risky strategy”. However, he still argues that it is “a way of showing respect to those who have been offended or hurt, and of recognising their fundamental dignity”.
While it is generally difficult to admit to shortcomings, much less, to confess mistakes, experts advise that it is important not to minimise the potential damage
of one’s actions. Author and speaker Kevin Hancock writes that, “apologies aren’t meant to change the past, they are meant to change the future”.
Through apologising, it is possible to repair the damage caused by an offending action or speech, restore relationships, and to soothe and heal wounds
and hearts. In an essay, Beverley Engel writes that, “an apology is not just a social nicety. It is an important ritual, a way of showing respect and empathy
for the wronged person. While an apology cannot undo harmful past actions, if done sincerely and effectively it can undo the negative effects of those actions”.
She also observes that, “apology is crucial to our mental and even physical health. An apology actually affects the bodily functions of the person
receiving it – blood pressure decreases, heart rate slows down and breathing becomes steadier”.
For those who are conscious of their images, Megan Harber of The Atlantic newspaper, advises that apologising goes beyond atonement; it is “a way not only
to own up to one’s missteps, but also to do that classic work of crisis management: control the narrative”.
In the words of the Business News daily, the other challenge that needs attention is to note that, “an improper apology etiquette consists of forcing an
apology, including the word ‘but’ after your apology, justifying your actions, and failing to make corrective behaviour afterward”.