Timing and Forgiveness
How do timing and forgiveness
play off of each other when apologizing?
Now that we understand the ingredients required for an effective apology AND how
the manner in which you deliver it can have an effect on the apology's
success, let's look at another element that can help you obtain your ultimate goal of forgiveness. That
is the timing of your apology.
Although it is not an ingredient per se, it can contribute to creating the
perfect atmosphere for your apology.
Why is timing important when apologizing? Delays can compound
the original issue and make the injured party less open to forgiving you. On
the other hand, instant apologies often risk being viewed as insincere and
The important point here is that timing and forgiveness
are closely related. A simple
error in judgment can, over time, quickly become a more serious problem in
the absence of an apology. Anyone can make a mistake, but if your mistake is
compounded by the impression that you're also inconsiderate (for failing to
realize you owe an apology) then the problem can get worse. Now the simple
apology that would almost certainly have been sufficient if delivered
quickly, will now make things worse.
An obvious a lack of caring from a
poorly timed apology can make hurt feelings transform into an impression
that you have complete disregard for others feelingsa serious
character flaw. Keep in mind, there are
very few occasions when it makes sense to hold off on saying I'm sorry.
To illustrate the effect that timing has on forgiveness we'll use the
John says something unintentionally that hurts Mary's feelings. Mary leaves
the room visibly distressed.
We'll assume that in all cases John has adhered to the guidelines of a
perfect apology and understands both the Science of an apology and the
What's the relationship between the length of time John takes to apologize
and how easily he will be forgiven? What is the correlation between timing
1. If John immediately follows Mary and says he's sorry, Mary will likely be
more receptive to listening and forgiving him. Why? Because the incident
happened only seconds before.
Mary, although hurt by the remark that John
made, now understands that it was an unintentional comment and that John
never meant to hurt her in any way. Regardless of his intentions, John takes
responsibility for Marys hurt feelings and acknowledges being the cause of
her reaction. By John immediately reacting to Mary's distress, it signals to
her that she and her feelings are important to him.
2. If John waits a couple of days to apologize, Mary will likely be less
open to immediately forgiving him.
Mary has now spent the last 48 hours hurt
and thinking about the situation. At the very worst, she assumes that John
intended to hurt her. At best, she is thinking that although he may not have
meant to hurt her feelings he obviously does not care for her enough to
3. What happens if John waits even longer?
Mary's hurt grows due
not only to the original comment made by John but also by his lack of
respect, understanding, and caring for her. She is now more likely to think
that he meant to hurt her since he has made no sign that he feels badly for
what he said. The original comment may also now turn into a catalyst for
larger issues in their relationship as Mary waits for an apology and time
goes by. When and if John does finally apologize he may need to extend two
apologiesone for the original incident and one to explain the delay in
In all cases, timing and forgiveness are connected in some way. The point is
that the more time passes the more closed the door to forgiveness may
There are a few cases that may warrant a delay when apologizing:
If the incident could result in ANY form of legal action or liability
with ANY party then delaying a response to seek the legal advice of an
attorney is VERY prudent. This is especially true for
If the infraction was major and the offended party may need time to
cool off then delaying your apology may provide the time needed for the
recipient to be more open to forgiveness.
So given the same set of circumstances we see the timing of an apology
not only affects how it is perceived but may also compound the
original incident into larger issues. This is the correlation between
timing and forgiveness.
So act fast, make amends and apologize!
Forgiveness to How to Apologize