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How to Make a Good Apology

A high-quality apology has three elements:

  1. It accepts responsibility for the wrong and doesn’t even hint that outside forces, or the victim, caused the offender to do what they did.
  2. It’s unqualified. If the apology contains a “but,” it fails. There’s time later—after the injury has had time to heal—to bring up any qualifications that might be relevant to future interactions.
  3. It offers to make amends to avoid the transgression in the future.

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Apologies bring us face-to-face with the fact that we have something to apologize for, triggering a sense of guilt and shame. 

Saying sorry puts one’s shameful behavior out there. That’s why transgressors often view an apology as threatening to their self-image and consequently hesitate to offer one. 

When people focus on their core values, they seem to become more willing to sincerely apologize. 

By understanding the many barriers to an apology— the indifference to another’s pain or the fraying of a relationship—we can glimpse what’s holding us back from saying “I’m sorry” in a particular situation. 

From there, we have the opportunity to change course and let the healing begin.

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Have you ever had someone attempt to apologize to you who never actually said, “I’m sorry”? If so, you know how infuriating that can be. 

An effective apology always includes the verbal acknowledgement that you are sorry.

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IDEAS

A perfect apology has to be without ego, an expression of genuine regret, and the assumption of full responsibility: I am so sorry that you were hurt, this accident is completely my fault, and I really was going too fast, and too carelessly.

A botched or half-hearted apology taints the act of apologising, not leaving space for any further apology to arise from the other person.

When people make the common mistake of saying they’re sorry too quickly, they can miss a crucial step towards reconciliation.

If someone commits a serious transgression, it’s best to apologize only after the victim has had a chance to “yell and vent” and fully process the betrayal.

Apologies that come too late, like those that come too early, are likely to fail; the sweet spot is somewhere between the two.