There’s a reason the song is called, “Hard To Say I’m Sorry.” Apologizing is something that doesn’t come easily or naturally for most people, including me. Too often, we get too wrapped up in our own lives and our own needs to consider how we might be hurting others, both intentionally and unintentionally. And in many of these instances, a genuine apology is not only necessary but perhaps the only thing that can repair an otherwise broken relationship.
As someone who has always struggled with making heartfelt apologies to loved ones, I turned to experts for advice on how to be better at saying “I’m sorry.”
Acknowledge what you did wrong. The first step to making an apology, is to explain the error. The person who made the mistake should acknowledge and demonstrate their understanding of why they hurt the other person. “The reason for this step is that an offer of ‘Sorry!’ without communicating that you’ve understood why the words or actions were hurtful results in less of an impact to the hearer,” she says.
Be sincere. This seems like a no-brainer, but we live in a culture where superficial and qualified non-apologies are the norm for politicians and public figures. Often, they will sound something like, I’m sorry if I hurt you or I’m sorry but… A sincere and humble apology, doesn’t attempt to justify wrongdoing. Instead, it “shows that you recognize your hurtful actions, accept responsibility, and are willing to change.”
Ask for forgiveness. When you ask for forgiveness, you give the other person a chance to react and respond. Give them time. Even if they never come around, this is an important gesture that puts the ball back in their court. It gives them the opportunity to either take it or leave it.
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Don’t think of an apology as winning or losing. Too many couples say they just want to win or be right in a fight. But saying the words ‘I’m sorry’ when you have crossed a line isn’t the same as saying ‘you’re completely right in this situation.’ Instead, an apology simply means that “you value the relationship more than your ego.”
Don’t blame them. This is the most challenging hurdle to overcome in my own apologies, as I am usually all too eager to point out how they provoked me into acting a certain way. Blaming them pretty much invalidates your apology.
Be ready to apologize multiple times. Sometimes, one sorry just isn’t enough. To show genuine contrition, repeatedly asking for forgiveness and offering reassurance to loved ones, especially for serious errors. “To apologize and expect life to return to normal because you said sorry is unrealistic,” he says. “This contrition will help reduce the anger that the other may be feeling and will help rebuild the trust.”
Tell them how you will change. Most of us can agree that an apology is meaningless if nothing changes afterward. This is why it is so important to follow up with “how you plan to change your behavior to avoid this problem in the future. Most importantly, you must follow through with the change. It is the only way that the other person will know that you are truly sorry.
…But what if they don’t forgive you?
This is the hardest part about apologies. Sometimes, no matter what you do or say, it won’t be enough. In her experience, a well-executed proper apology is 12 times more likely to generate forgiveness from the recipient of the apology.” Still, if your apology is not accepted, she advises that you should assess the reason why. If the recipient says he needs more time, you might respond with, “I understand and I am willing to give you more time. I’d like to call you next week—does that sound all right to you?”
Sometimes, people may hesitate in granting forgiveness, because the offered restoration isn’t enough. In that case, you might respond with “I’d like to know what I can do to make this right. Can we brainstorm together?” This shows that you are willing to do whatever it takes to make amends.