Over the years I have come to realize that many people do not know how to apologize properly. This is evidenced by the poor examples of apologies that we see in the media regularly. So, I thought I’d share some dos and don’ts of how to apologize properly.
- Do, say you are sorry with sincerity.
- Do, admit what it is you did wrong that requires an apology.
- Do, ask for forgiveness and if necessary, how you can make amends.
- Do, state what you will do differently next time.
- Do, change your behaviour. A genuine apology will be accompanied by a change in behaviour. Therefore, if you are not planning to change your behaviour then your apology is pointless.
For example, here is a template of a good apology: “I am sorry that I…I didn’t mean to…Please forgive me. In the future, I will…”.
- Don’t, negate your apology by using the word “but” – once you say that, everything before the “but” becomes invalid.
- Don’t, blame others for your actions. You are an adult and you are responsible for your choices. Own them and any associated consequences.
- Don’t, tell others they are overreacting or are too sensitive. How someone feels is not debatable.
- Don’t, demand that they forgive you – you have no right to demand that someone else forgives you for something so that you can feel better.
- Don’t, refuse to apologize when you have done something wrong.
Here are some examples of poor apologies:
- “I am sorry but…” – Once you say “but”, you negate the apology.
- “Well if you hadn’t…” – Blaming someone else for your actions is not apologizing.
- “I don’t know why you are so upset…” – You don’t get to decide how someone else should or shouldn’t feel.
- “...no one else was offended…” – How others reacted in a situation is inconsequential.
- “…. you are too sensitive…” – You are not in charge of someone else’s feelings.
- “I’m sorry you felt that way.” – This is not taking ownership of your actions.
None of these non-apologies is actually going to make the situation better. Rather, they are almost guaranteed to exacerbate the situation. In fact, it would be better not to apologize at all if your apology is going to sound like one of these examples.
Finally, remember that the apology is not about you. Instead, it is about righting a wrong that you perpetrated against someone else – even if it was unintentional. Being able to admit you are wrong and apologize does not make you weak. Instead, it shows strength of character. Also, depending on the situation, sometimes it may be necessary to offer an apology more than once. In closing, none of us is perfect and we all mess up from time to time. So, let’s make every effort to make sure our apologies are sincere.