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Too Little, Too Late

Sometimes, when we apologize for saying hurtful things during a conflict, the other person doesn’t accept the words we express. At these times, she or he might respond with the phrase “too little, too late”, or something to that effect, and we are taken aback. We may have thought our apology would patch things up, and we would both be able to move forward without any lingering acrimony. Or, we thought things were resolved but at a later time it appears that our apology didn’t really change the other person’s ill feelings towards us.

The reality is apologies don’t always work. For instance, there are times the apology – in whatever form it takes – comes too late. The damage is done and the other person is fed up, disgusted, saddened (and so on) and not able to accept an apology, much less any excuses for the offending behaviour. This sentiment is multiplied when that behaviour (words expressed, etc.) is a repetition of the same sort of unacceptable communications, etc.

Apologies might also feel like they are too little. This determination could be made when there is a perception that the words of the apologizer are insincere, that a too light-hearted approach is used, that the apology is brief, and that what is said gives short shrift to the gravity of the situation and just doesn’t fly as a conciliatory gesture.

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog invites you to consider a time you apologized and it was too little and/or too late or you gave an apology that was apparently not experienced as effective for these reasons.

  • When someone apologized to you and you perceived it as ineffective, what was she or he apologizing for?
  • Did you experience it as too little or too late or both?
  • In what particular ways was it too little or too late or both?
  • In what other ways was the apology ineffective?
  • What else, if anything, about the way the apology was delivered contributed to a negative reaction in you?
  • What was your reaction?
  • When you have apologized to someone and you realized or heard from her or him that it was experienced as too little and/or too late or both, which was it?
  • How did the person react?
  • Why do you suppose, or what have you come to realize about why the person perceived your apology as such (your answer to the previous question)?
  • What do you now think you could have said or done that would have been more effective?
  • How might that have changed the outcome (your answer to the previous question)?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?

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