How To Apologize The Right Way: Best Examples and Tips
It is only human to make mistakes. We all commit errors, let other people down, and break promises. While we all commit mistakes, not everybody is adept at asking for forgiveness. Not everyone has been taught how to apologize in a way that is effective, sincere, and heartfelt. That is why today we will share with you the key ingredients for delivering a good apology.
What is NOT an Apology: 3 Examples
Before we delve into the characteristics that must be present in a perfect and sincere apology, let's take a look at some examples of phrases that seem like apologies, but in reality they are not (good) apologies.
1. I'm sorry that I was late, but there was a lot of traffic.
2. I'm sorry that you feel that way.
3. I said I'm sorry. I didn't want to make you feel that way. Can you just move on now?
But, what is wrong with these examples?
First and foremost, an apology does not include the word 'but.' Saying 'but' cancels what you said before it. For instance, take you say "I'm sorry, but I didn't know that this would hurt you." The 'but' effectively cancels the 'I'm sorry.' With this 'apology' you are not actually communicating that you feel sorry. Rather, you are excusing your behavior and giving a reason for why you are not indeed sorry.
Moreover, a good apology must be one where you take responsibility and accountability—something that is not happening in example #2. And, it must not try to force the other to readily forgive you and move on—such as what is happening in example #3.
So, how can we apologize in a way that is effective and sincere? Let's find out.
How To Apologize Sincerely and Effectively: 6 Tips
Apologizing effectively can be an art. Just as painting, it must follow a series of steps to create a masterpiece. And, just as cooking a michelin-star dish, it must incorporate some essential ingredients in order for it to hit home. Let's discuss some of the ingredients that must be present in a sincere, effective, and heartfelt apology.
1. It must be focused on your actions
An effective apology must be focused on our actions, rather than on the other person's response or reaction. For example, this is not an apology: "I'm sorry that I yelled at you, but come on, why are you so sensitive?" This sort of apology does not focus on your actions. Instead, it makes the other person feel invalidated and humiliated.
So, the first ingredient in a good apology is that it focuses on your actions. Just say, for instance: "I'm sorry that I talked to you like that." Full stop.
2. It should offer restitution
Another element of a good apology is that it offers reparation or restitution. Take for example: "I'm sorry that I broke your car. It was my mistake, but I will offer to fix it on my expenses." In this case example, you offer to repair something.
"I'm sorry that I didn't have time to meet you yesterday. I'm going to empty my calendar and spend my weekend with you." In this scenario, you offer reparation because you know and understand that you hurt the feelings of the other person and want them to know that you see them and understand their feelings.
3. It does not overexaggerate
Another characteristic of a good apology is that it does not overexaggerate. Your apology should not overcompensate. Just because you know that you were wrong, it does not mean that you must overcompensate the other or feel guilt and regret for the rest of your life. You do not have to send flowers every single day or feel that you owe the other person for the rest of your life. These sorts of behaviours and patterns of thinking only serve to create a power imbalance within the relationship—and in relationships we must always strive for balance. So, remember, its good to offer reparations, but do not overcompensate and self-punish for the rest of your life because of a mistake.
4. It does not focus on who started it
A good apology does not focus on who started it. There is no room for defensiveness in apologies. When you apologize, you should not be looking for a culprit or victim. Rather, an effective and sincere apology focuses only on our share of the responsibility. They consist of owning our own part of responsibility. But, this does not mean taking the blame for everything. Instead, it is about taking accountability for our share while not trying to blame the other part. The other person can admit to their own responsibility without the need of forcing them to when one is trying to apologize.
5. It promises change
A successful apology also shows to the other person that we will do our best in order to avoid repeating the same mistake in the future. For instance, an example of a good apology would be: "I'm sorry that I was late for our meeting. I will leave work earlier next time so that I will meet you on time." An effective apology highlights that there is going to be corrective action.
6. It does not ask from the other
Last but not least, a good apology does not ask the other person to do something. Not even to forgive. A sincere and heartfelt apology does not sound like: "So I said I am sorry, Now you need to move on." Whether to forgive or not, move on or not, is not your decision. It is the decision of the other person. By apologizing, we are doing our part. The only thing left to do is to wait until the other person is ready to forgive, or continue the conversation. They might have questions, or might want to discuss what happened further—and all that is okay. In a good apology, we do not rush the other person to forgive us; we patiently wait until they are ready. An apology is not a transaction, we do not apologize to get something in return.
2 Essential Ingredients of a Good Apology
Besides the ingredients we shared above, there are two essential components that must be present in any apology in order for it to be sincere and effective.
A great apology makes the other person feel validated and heard.
For example: "I am sorry for what I did. I know that being late hurt you or made you feel ashamed because you were waiting for me for all this time. It must have been very difficult for you."
By validating, we show the person that we have stepped into their shoes. We empathize with how it must have been when they were being the recipient of our behavior.
2. Listening and asking.
A good apology is not there to stop the conversation. A sincere apology actually continues the conversation. We do not apologize in order to silence the other person. For instance, by saying: "See, I said, I'm sorry, stop it. Just drop it."
No, in a good apology we want to explain our own thoughts and opinions, while also exploring the other person's perspective and how they felt about the events. An apology is the beginning of the conversation; not the end of it.
Even if we do not understand the other's perspective, an apology can start with "I'm sorry". And, thereafter, you can continue the conversation and ask them kindly to explain their point of view further as you are not quite grasping it. By continuing the conversation you can both—together—arrive at the crux of the matter and you can then more effectively offer reparations and promise to change (and follow through).
Give your relationship the gift of a good apology. You will not only make the other person feel important in the relationship, but you will also allow your relationship to grow stronger. Take care.
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