Life Advice: How to Apologize

business woman holding a poster

Apologies are by nature one of the more difficult interactions to master. Feelings have been hurt. Disappointment, bitterness, and anger are just some of the challenging emotions that have to be dealt with. Delivering a meaningful, heartfelt apology is a skill that can take practice to master. But it can mean the difference between saving a relationship, or simply peace of mind. Here are a few tips on how to make an effective apology.

Accept responsibility for your actions

  • Don’t blame anyone else for what you did.
  • Don’t make excuses for your actions.
  • If possible or applicable, explain why you did what you did. This is different from an excuse – it’s an honest, revealing look at what motivated your behavior. Perhaps your actions were motivated by fear or your own hurt feelings. While this doesn’t remedy the wrong, it may at least help lessen the hurt on the other side and allow someone to more easily find forgiveness.

 Demonstrate empathy

  • When you truly express regret for the hurt, damage or inconvenience you have caused another person, they will feel it.
  • Even if your intention wasn’t to hurt or anger the other person, it’s still important to recognize that what you did (or didn’t do) caused pain or inconvenience.
  • People can tell the difference between an apology delivered by rote and an apology that comes from the heart.

Take action

  • Show that you are willing to do something to fix the situation. It’s not just enough to say you’re sorry – what are you prepared to do to ensure that it doesn’t happen again?
  • If you’re not sure what to do as a next step, ask the person that you’re apologizing to. And then be prepared to really listen to them and try to take action on their request.
  • “What else do can I do now?” or “How can I do things differently next time?” are a few examples of language you can use.

Figure out the most effective way to apologize

  • A face-to-face apology can be incredibly powerful. There’s nothing quite as potent as looking someone in the eye and honestly expressing remorse.
  • The con of a face-to-face apology is that it can also put someone on the spot. Think about what delivery method might be most meaningful and most comfortable to whom you’re apologizing.
  • If you think you will get nervous delivering your apology verbally, write it down. A letter or an email apology can also allow the recipient time to reread your words and let them sink in.
  • Never apologize face-to-face if you think there’s the possibility of a violent reaction.