When you are the person who has made a significant mistake or return on your word, it can be really challenging to face it and say “Yes, I screwed up, but now I really want to proceed. How can I make it up for you?” Because the reality is that we would like to go on like nothing happened. We want to be forgiven without having to ask for it. We need the sun to smile down and say “Of course it’s okay, you don’t have to say anything, we’ll all just pretend like it never happened.” However, it did happen, we did screw up, and the only way we are going to have the ability to move forward is by owning our mistake. Ouch, I know it hurts, but think of how free you’ll feel once you fess up and apologize instead of harboring guilt as you walk through your life.
The one that you hurt or offended deserves a sincere apology. I am not talking about a general “sorry for everything” but instead, a particular sincere apology. Apologizing can be one of the hardest things we ever have to do. The majority of us are overly attached to our ego, and feel that the act of apologizing in some way jeopardizes it. Apologizing can be quite hard, but it gets easier with practice. Eventually you can get to the point where you instantly recognize when you’ve hurt someone, and you can apologize quickly and sincerely.
Have you ever received an apology that felt more like an accusation that you were being too sensitive? Or have you offered a half-hearted apology to someone when you felt they did not deserve it? Apologizing is an art and a true apology should consist of admitting responsibility for an offensive actions and addressing the specific transgression.
When we were kids and our parents made us apologize, we had grunt out a forced “sorry” That was good enough so we heard that that’s all an apology should be. We were taught wrong. As adults, we will need to master the art of the sincere apology. It doesn’t matter if we’re apologizing to a romantic partner, a friend, or family member. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of either no apology, or an insincere apology intended just to placate and smooth things over. Apologies are the tool to admit your wrong doing, the effects of what you did to the other, and promote healing for the one you hurt and the connection.
It can be tricky to swallow your pride and admit that you were wrong and to ask for forgiveness but that’s exactly what you need to do. Especially if you value the relationship with the person you have offended or hurt.
A sincere apology isn’t about you so don’t make it about you. You can always explain yourself later but for the purpose of a truly healing apology, keep your attention on the injured individual and acknowledging the impact that they have suffered.
Be specific. Prevent a blanket apology of “I’m sorry for everything.” Rather, offer an apology of what you did such as “I am sorry for lying to you.” When you are specific in your apology, the receiver can realize that you acknowledge the actions that hurt or upset them.
There are several important things to keep in mind in giving a true apology. I will list them for you. As you read through them, think back to when you have apologized. Have you validated the person you’ve injured or minimized and defended yourself instead?
1. Don’t use the apology as an opportunity to point out what another person did wrong. If you go about it that way, you are missing the point entirely. And it is going to just make another person even angrier.
2. Before deciding the best way to make the apology, think through just what the mistake was, the impact on the other person and what you learned from the experience. How are you going to be different in the future?
3. Consider in what way the other person was hurt and what reparation has to be made. Was there physical damage or were another person’s feelings hurt? Are others affected by the error?
4. Find a time when he or she is willing to listen. Explain that you are accountable for what happened and that you know why he or she’s angry/sad/disappointed. Give him or her time to express her feelings. You made the mistake and he or she deserves to tell you the impact. Ask if they can forgive you. Be prepared if they can’t.
5. If the person is a relative or someone you are close to, a hug is a good way to complete the apology.
6. Apologies should never, ever take the kind of “I am sorry nothing I do is ever good enough” or “I’m sorry you’re angry about it.” Those statements are implicit denials of responsibility.
I will give you some steps to follow in crafting your true apology. Some of them might be a replica of the keys discussed above, but they are important and have to be reiterated.
Ok, so do you apologize effectively? It’s simple, right? You say, “I am sorry.” What’s there? Well, that is an apology, accurate. A good one for, say, stepping on somebody’s toe, or forgetting to call Merritt Island Wildlife Removal. But what I’m talking about is how to apologize effectively about more complex things, so that the other person actually hears your regret and you can both do what you can to proceed.
1. If you are apologizing and you don’t mean it, everyone can tell. Effective apologizing isn’t a “tip” you can use to spin your actions and win forgiveness without remorse. You have to mean it.
Know what, exactly, your transgression is. Not what you feel most sorry about, but what hurt another person or people involved the most. “I’m sorry I forgot to call and say I would be late” is a not as effective apology than “I am sorry I wasn’t respectful of your time.”
Do not make excuses. Even if there are actual mitigating reasons or circumstances, now is probably not the time to bring them up, or if you have to, you then need to return to what you did and reiterate your obligation: “I shouldn’t ever lie to you.”
2. Even if you don’t think your actions “should” provoke the reactions they do, this can be a significant step.
“I know I make you frustrated.” “I didn’t mean to make you worry.” “I can tell you are really angry at me right now.” “I know you were waiting.” “I know when I lie to you it makes it hard for you to trust me.”
3. Make it simpler. A few things you can, in fact, fix after the fact, and then the apology serves only to deal with how they happened in the first place. Some things you can not , ever fix. What is important is that you do your best to try. A focus on preventing your error from happening in future is often helpful, in addition to other fix-it efforts.
Start with what you’ve done or may do. “I have thought of several options that would go part-way toward fixing the situation, and here they are.” “What can I do to help recover your trust?” “Can you think of something that I can do to make certain this doesn’t happen again?” “Was there a better way I could have said that?”
Those are the three most basic measures. As soon as you’ve got these, you can improvise a bit more, and negotiate, explain, or dialogue as well as your apology, using the same basic structure.
“I’m sorry I’ve made such a mess of this. I can see that it is making you unhappy, but when I made my choices I wasn’t aware of some really important facts. Now that I know, I will make better decisions; let’s work on the communication to make certain that it doesn’t happen again.”
“I’m sorry I did that. But I am not sure I know why you’re so angry. Can we talk about this a bit more so I can keep from doing this inadvertently in future?”
“I know you feel terrible when I do so, and I do not want to make you feel terrible. This is really important to me. How do we compromise?”
Provided that you’re still taking responsibility, acknowledging the consequences of your actions, and trying to make it simpler, you should still have the ability to craft an effective apology.
My tip to you is to apologize quickly and totally once you are aware that you’ve offended or hurt another person. Most people will forgive you immediately because they care about you and appreciate the relationship. They just needed to have their hurt or offended feelings validated. Others may need to have a bit of a discussion to make sure that their feelings are heard and validated. You owe them this without interrupting them to defend yourself or getting angry. However, sometimes you come across a person who simply refuses to accept your apology. That’s their right. If the offense you have committed crosses their bottom line then they may decide that a future relationship with you isn’t for them.
Bear in mind, an apology does not just sweep everything under the carpet or turn the clock back as if nothing happened. It will, however, acknowledge the wrong-doing and it will show that you do see the effect it had on another person. Even if they’re not able to accept your apology now does not mean that they won’t be able to at a later time. Even if you think that your apology will not be accepted, apologize anyway. You will be a better person for it.
She is enthusiastic and uniquely qualified to assist her clients in uncovering personal roadblocks to live an empowered life on purpose. She founded a non-profit base for unwed pregnant adolescents and battered women and children. Giving back is quite important to her. When she is not writing or coaching she enjoys spending time with her 4 children and 3 grandchildren, traveling, cooking, sky diving and scuba diving.