Let’s face it: we are all going to make mistakes in our lifetime that will lead us to offer up an apology to someone. Whether it is bumping into someone in the hall or by saying hurtful things in the heat of an argument, we all find ourselves uttering those apologetic words.
Now let me ask you, do you remembering being taught how or when to say, “I’m sorry”? We are not offered classes in grade school on that subject like we are Science or Math, but it is probably one of the most important lessons we learn as a child. We often find ourselves repeating the words we have heard from others with no real emotion behind them.
In the mental health field we talk about being able to forgive others and ourselves, but how often do we talk about ways to offer a sincere apology in order to achieve that forgiveness? Everyone knows what an insincere apology looks, sounds and feels like. So let’s take a second to discuss how to make a sincere, emotional apology.
- First, understand that when making an apology, you are accepting your part in hurting someone. So make sure your voice, body language and facial expressions match the sincerity of your words.
- The best apologies are the ones that happen immediately after the transgression. If you allow too much time to pass between the event and the apology, it may not come across as sincere. Given the situation, occasionally allowing a day or two to pass is acceptable. This will give the recipient enough time to calm down and be open to accepting the apology.
- Never include the word, “but” in an apology. When you say, “I’m sorry, but…” you are setting up the sentence for an excuse. “I’m sorry, but it wasn’t my fault”, or “I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t have …” switches the blame from you to someone else or even the person you are attempting to apologize to.
- Avoid non-apologetic words. We have all heard the non-apology before, when someone says, “I’m sorry that what I said upset you”, or “I’m sorry you took it the wrong way.” You cannot apologize for the other person’s feelings. You are apologizing for your actions or behavior not how someone else felt or took them. Own up to your mistakes.
- Be specific and don’t under- apologize. Don’t just say, “I’m sorry”. Apologize for each individual action so that the recipient knows that you are aware of what you did wrong. By being specific you are not generalizing or playing down the impact the action could have made on someone.
- Be present and don’t respond defensively. Remember that a true apology is a selfless act, giving you an opportunity to tap into humility and possibly a feeling of weakness while recognizing of the grace another person.
- And finally, make an attempt to make it up to the individual. It is acceptable to ask what can be done to correct the mistake. There may not be a way to make it right, but by offering you are showing your willingness to correct the wrong you have created. It is always great to share how you will avoid making the same mistake in the future. And then thank the person for being gracious enough to accept your apology.
No one likes to be wrong or to hurt someone else. By offering a sincere apology you are allowing yourself to release guilt and pain from your own heart and soothing pain in someone else. This is the beginning to rebuilding the broken trust that naturally occurs in conflict. By making things right with someone else, we are making things right within ourselves.