By Dr. Tomi W. Bryan
We all have those people in our lives, the ones who apologize for the same thing over and over but never change their behavior. They say they are sorry, but after the 183rd time, we all know the apology isn't sincere. If they were truly sorry and wanted to change, then they would have done so by now. What can you do when someone keeps saying "sorry" for the same old thing? And, if you decide to say something, when is the right time to do it?
There are two courses of action to handle the fake apology: accept the behavior or hold the person accountable. The first course of action, accept the behavior, is the path of least resistance. You know what you are going to get, and it's up to you to decide whether you will tolerate it.
If someone keeps offering the apology and you accept it, then you are only going to get more of it. It is also important to recognize that if you accept the behavior then you don't get to complain about it. Essentially, once we accept the behavior, we have signed up to see it again and again so complaining is a waste or your time and energy.
Accepting the behavior isn't always a bad thing. But make it a conscious choice. My husband has apologized for getting home late from work just about every day since the day we got married. At one point I decided I could either keep getting frustrated about it or manage to it, and once I decided to manage to it things became much better.
That leads to the second option, which is to hold the other person accountable. Through observing the behavior of others, I discovered the best time to hold someone accountable is when the third apology for the same thing happens. It is usually around this time that I know the apology is "fake," because that is evidence they might have no serious intention of changing.
The way to hold others accountable is by explaining the behavior's effect on you. Maybe it violates a deeply held value you have, or maybe the person's behavior is inconsistent with a value he or she holds dear. Help the person see the message their behavior is sending. Many times, we don't entirely understand the ways our behavior is perceived by others.
While I did end up accepting my husband's being late, I still had the accountability conversation with him. Often, he was late because he was working hard to provide a good life for us. He didn't understand why I would get frustrated that he was coming home late when he was his working hard was a sacrifice for the family.
It clicked for him when I explained the behaviors from our perspective. I told him, "You always being late makes me and the children feel like we don't matter. If you want us to believe your work is more important than we are, you are succeeding."
These conversations are valuable for helping the other person understand the effects their behaviors have on others. These conversations are most effective when they focus on the effects of the behavior, and not about you being angry or mad. When we speak from anger, it tends to make the other person defensive. For some reason, defensiveness seems to be connected to the ears so people stop listening when they find themselves in that space.
Finally, the fake apology can be something small, or it can be a signal of disrespect or of bigger behavioral issues to come. If you have a conversation with the person offering you the apologies and they choose not to change, then you have a decision to make. You can either choose to accept the behavior or decide that it's time to let that person have a smaller role in your life.
Dr. Tomi Bryan, a sought-after System Dynamics Expert, helps high achievers find their next gear. Discover the champion within! Learn more at Championship Dynamics, connect with us on Facebook or schedule an appointment with Dr. Bryan. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.