When you are the one who has made a significant mistake or return on your word, it can be really hard to face it and say “Yes, I screwed up, but now I really need to proceed. How do I make it up to you?” Because the reality is that we would like to go on like nothing happened. We want to be forgiven without needing to request it. We want the sun to smile down and say “Of course it’s okay, you do not have to say anything, we will all just pretend like it never happened.” However, it did happen, we did screw up, and the only way we’re going to be able to move forward is by possessing our mistake. Ouch, I know it hurts, but think of how free you’ll feel once you fess up and apologize rather than harboring guilt as you walk through your life.
The one that you hurt or offended deserves a sincere apology. I’m not talking about a general “sorry for everything” but instead, a particular sincere apology. Apologizing can be among the hardest things we ever have to do. Most of us are overly attached to our self, and feel that the act of apologizing in some way jeopardizes it. Apologizing can be quite hard, but it becomes easier with practice. Eventually you can get to the point where you instantly recognize when you have hurt someone, and you’ll be able to 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 must include admitting responsibility for an offensive actions and addressing the particular transgression.
When we were kids and our parents left 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 had been taught wrong. As adults, we need to master the art of this sincere apology. It doesn’t matter if we’re apologizing to a romantic partner, a friend, or relative. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of either no apology, or an insincere apology intended only to placate and smooth things over. Apologies will be the tool to acknowledge your wrong doing, the effects of what you did to the other, and promote healing for the one you hurt along with the relationship.
It can be difficult to swallow your pride and admit that you were wrong and to request 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 afterwards but for the purpose of a truly curing apology, keep your attention on the injured individual and acknowledging the effect that they have suffered.
Be specific. Prevent a blanket apology of “I am sorry for everything.” Instead, offer an apology of what you specifically did such as “I’m sorry for lying to you.” When you’re specific in your apology, the recipient can realize that you acknowledge the action that hurt or upset them.
There are many key things to keep in mind in giving a sincere apology. I will list them for you. As you browse through them, think back to when you’ve apologized. Have you validated the person you’ve hurt or diminished and defended yourself instead?
1. Do not use the apology as an chance to point out what another person did wrong. If you go about it that way, you’re missing the point completely. And it will only make the other person even angrier.
2. Before deciding the best way to make the apology, think through exactly what the mistake was, the effect on the other person and what you learned from the experience. How are you going to be different in the future?
3. Was there physical damage or were the other person’s feelings hurt? Are others affected by the error? Is this the first time such a thing has happened or is it a repeat?
4. Find a time when he or she’s willing to listen. Explain that you’re accountable for what happened and that you know why he or she is angry/sad/disappointed. Give him or her time to express her feelings. Don’t interrupt! You made the mistake and he or she deserves to let you know the impact. Ask if they can forgive you. Be ready if they can not.
5. If the man is a relative or someone you’re close to, a hug is a fantastic way to complete the apology.
6. Focus on the things you can control. Apologies should never, ever take the form of “I am sorry nothing I do is ever good enough” or “I’m sorry you’re mad about this.”
I’m going to give you some steps to follow in crafting your own true apology. Some of them might be a replica of the keys discussed above, but they are important and need to be reiterated.
STEPS TO AN EFFECTIVE APOLOGY
Ok, so do you apologize effectively? It’s easy, right? You say, “I am sorry.” What else is there? Well, that is an apology, true. A good one for, say, stepping on someone’s toe, or forgetting to pick up the milk in the shop. However, what I’m talking about is how to apologize effectively about more complicated things, so the other person actually hears your sorrow and you can both do your best to proceed.
1. If you are apologizing and you do not mean it, everybody can tell. Effective apologizing is not a “tip” you can use to spin your actions and acquire forgiveness without remorse. You have to mean it.
Not what you feel most sorry about, but what hurt the other person or people involved the most. “I am sorry I forgot to call and say I would be late” is a not as effective apology than “I’m sorry I was not respectful of your time.”
Do not make excuses. If you did it, own it. “I lied to you, and I never should have done that.” Even if there are actual mitigating reasons or circumstances, now is probably not the time to bring them up, or if you need to, you should then return to what you did and reiterate your responsibility: “I shouldn’t ever lie to you.”
2. Even when you don’t believe your activities “should” provoke the responses they do, this can be an important step.
Emotional consequences. “I know I make you frustrated.” “I did not mean to make you worry.” “I can tell you are really angry at me.”
Other consequences. “I know you were waiting.”
3. Make it better. Some things you can, in actuality, fix after the fact, and then the apology serves only to deal with the fact that they occurred in the first place. Some things you can not fix. The most important thing is that you do your best to try. A focus on preventing your mistake from occurring in future is often helpful, along with other fix-it efforts.
Start with what you have done or can do. “I have thought of several options that would go part-way toward fixing the situation, and here they are.”
Ask what (else) you can do. “What can I do to help regain your trust?” “Can you think of something I can do to make sure this does not happen again?” “What would make you feel better about this whole situation?”
These are the three most basic measures. Once you’ve got those, you can improvise somewhat more, and negotiate, clarify, or dialogue as well as your apology, using the exact same basic structure.
“I’m sorry I’ve made such a mess of this. I can see that it is making you unhappy, but once I made my decisions I was not aware of some really important facts. Now that I know, I will make better decisions; let’s work on the communication to be certain it doesn’t happen again.”
“I am sorry I did that. I didn’t know it would make you so mad, and I apologize. But I’m not sure I understand why you’re so angry. Can we discuss this a bit more so that I can keep from doing this inadvertently in future?”
“I know you feel terrible when I do so, and I don’t want to make you feel terrible. This is truly important to me. How can we compromise?”
Provided that you are still taking responsibility, acknowledging the consequences of your actions, and trying to make it simpler, you should still be able to craft an effective apology.
My suggestion to you is to apologize quickly and totally once you are aware that you have offended or hurt the other person. Most people will forgive you immediately because they care about you and appreciate the relationship. They simply needed to have their hurt or offended feelings validated. Others may need to have a bit of a discussion to be certain their feelings are heard and validated. You owe them this without interrupting them to defend yourself or getting angry. However, sometimes you run across someone who just refuses to accept your apology. That is their right. If the offense you’ve committed crosses their bottom line then they may decide that a future relationship with you isn’t for them.
Remember, an apology does not just sweep everything under the rug or turn the clock back as if nothing happened. It will, however, acknowledge the wrong-doing and it’ll show that you do see the effect it had on another person. Even if they’re unable to accept your apology now does not necessarily mean they won’t be able to at a later time. Even if you think that your apology will not be accepted, apologize anyway. You’ll be a better person for it.
She’s passionate and uniquely qualified to help her clients in uncovering personal roadblocks to live an empowered life on purpose. She founded a non-profit foundation for unwed pregnant adolescents and battered women and children. Giving back is quite important to her. When she is not coaching or writing she enjoys spending time with her 4 children and 3 grandchildren, traveling, cooking, sky diving and scuba diving.