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The Lost Art Of Apologizing (And How To Do It Right Every Time)

Use “I” statements

Take care to avoid blaming others for your mistakes. Use statements that are about you rather than others involved, by starting your sentences with “I.” 

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A Long, Hard Look in the Mirror

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. 

The Chance to Move Forward

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.

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.
An apology

An apology is one of the most profound interactions two human beings can have with one another.

Research by Lazare and others suggests effective apologies—meaning those that are accepted by an offended party—all tend to share a set of underlying features.

Timing

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.

Assuring the victim
Assure the victim that the bad behavior won’t happen again.

You should be more focused on the other person, making sure they really believe that you get what you did wrong. Without that emphasis on the other person’s emotional state—and the promise of change—an apology sounds insincere.

Apologies are not about right and wrong

They're about taking responsibility for unintentionally (or even intentionally) hurting someone emotionally or physically.

You apologize less because of you and your crime, but because of its effects on someone, usually someone you say you care about.