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The Art and Science of Apologizing

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.

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6 Components of a good apology
  1. Expression of regret
  2. Explanation of what went wrong
  3. Acknowledgment of responsibility
  4. Declaration of repentance
  5. Offer of repair
  6. Request for forgiveness
Communicate Effectively And Sincerely

The content of an apology is only half the battle. The delivery matters as well. If you mumble, avert eye contact, or stand in the corner with your arms crossed, it won’t matter what you say. 

No matter how much damage was done, a sincere apology restores faith.

The Courage To Apologize

Saying you’re sorry is uncomfortable. It can be hard to admit your shortcomings and acknowledge your mistakes. But taking responsibility is the key to restoring trust.

Be sincere

The only time to apologize is when you’re genuinely remorseful. 

Avoid any apology that is forced. The person you are apologizing to will pick up on your insincerity, causing further feelings of distrust.

Be honest and vulnerable

In order to show your sincerity when apologizing, you must be honest and vulnerable. That can lead to the cultivation of meaningful relationships. It can also lead to rejection, which is what makes it so scary. 

When you apologize, be willing to share openly and candidly, allowing emotions to flow freely, so that you can be fully seen.

Admit fault

Take responsibility for your actions and admit your mistakes or transgressions. State them out loud. Yes, it will be scary. It will feel shameful for a time. But it is worth it.

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.