How to Correctly Apologize
Welcome to the third part of a four part course called, “Freeing Yourself From Mistakes and Pain: A Four Part Course On Apologizing and Emotional Freedom”. If you missed previous parts, you can jump to the appropriate links at the bottom of this article.
Part three of this course provides you with many tips, techniques, and pieces of advice to help you correctly apologize. The advice I’m about to share with you will help you in ways beyond an apology. The tips can be applied to many areas of your life and communication as you will soon see.
What It Means to Correctly Apologize: To Be Forgiven and Forgotten?
Some people think apologizing correctly is as simple as saying “sorry” for a mistake. This is a shallow understanding of what you need to achieve in an apology. The goal of apologizing – and what I define as “apologizing correctly” – is when the person you hurt accepts your apology and forgives you. The person neither rejects your apology by saying something like “no need to apologize” nor holds the mistake against you. Things do not necessarily return to how they were before.
It is beyond the purpose of an apology to make your relationship stronger or indifferent before your mistake. The severity of the mistake affects the relationship, not so much the apology. If you keep screwing up with mistake after mistake, you can have successfully apologized when the person forgives you, but your relationship can still be different.
There is a lot of confusion about the old phrase “We must not forget; but we must forgive”. We know forgiveness is a must. Without it, the person unwilling to forgive emotionally suffers, often leaving the person who did the damage unscathed. But where does forgetting sit in a successful apology? Should we aim to have our mistakes forgotten by those we hurt?
If another person holds the bitter memories and resentment of your mistake against you, the person has not forgiven. It is impossible, however, to forget the mistake of another. Forgiveness heals the past releasing ill will against the person. Not forgetting provides a memory of the pain that guides future actions. Forgiveness and forgetting are closely knit together yet define different things.
An apology is successful when it is accepted and the mistake is no longer held against you. The person may not forget your mistake, but he or she forgives you, no longer resents you for the mistake, and does not use the mistake to manipulate you. Resentment, frustration, anger, gossip, bitterness, ill will, and other outward manifestations of hatred are erased upon a successful apology. Someone with these emotions signals the person has yet to forgive.
The person forgives you for your mistake. Resentment, frustration, anger, gossip, bitterness, ill will, and other outward manifestations of hatred are erased.
Now that a successful apology is defined, note that a correct apology can do so much. There is no iron-clad, fool-proof, guaranteed technique to successfully apologize. Sometimes you need to suffer through your mistakes and bear the punishment. Apologizing can sometimes be a bandage on a wound to help heal the pain. If the wound is repeatedly reopened, it is not the bandage’s fault, but the person who inflicted the pain. Most people can forgive you so many times before they lose trust in you. A reoccurring problem needs to be handled instead of expecting an apology to make amends.
Though apologizing correctly can be difficult, use the following tips. You will fix your mistakes, repair your relationships, and initiate emotional healing and freedom. Master these tips and you will be equipped with the tools to repair emotional damage from your mistakes.
Create a Simple Plan
Plan what you’re about to say by thinking through your apology beforehand. Prepare yourself to give a sincere apology. Write down your apology to clarify your thoughts so you increase the chances of it being a success.
When intense emotions fly everywhere in a situation like in a heated argument, it’s hard to think of what you want to express yet alone say it in a constructive manner. Intense emotions blind you to constructively express your thoughts. Plan your thoughts before going “live” with your apology to increase the likelihood of a successful apology. A plan guides you helping you not deviate with relationship damaging statements too common in emotionally intense situations.
The same lesson in planning carries over to help you set then achieve life goals. Success stems from seeds planted from planning. Planning nurtures golden relationships.
Admit you hurt the person. Your innate social intelligence will give you an intuition or feeling when you hurt someone. If you hurt the person by saying something offensive, admit your mistake. Don’t say, “You shouldn’t be offended by what I said.” Avoid a non-apology (from part two on barriers and mistakes made in apologizing), which involves blaming the other person while simultaneously giving a poor apology. Here are non-apology examples:
- “I apologize to those I hurt because of their loss.”
- “I’m deeply sorry for those who I may have offended.”
- “Please take my apology if you were offended by what I said.”
These examples appear to be apologies, but are attempts to avoid responsibility. Own up to the mistake and take responsibility regardless of your intentions and whether it truly hurt the person. The little voice that deters you from responsibility and apologizing is your ego. Egos are filled with deceitful lies and pride.
How to Time Your Apology
Apologize straight away for a little problem to prevent it growing into a big one. If you accidentally step on someone’s foot, say “sorry” straight away instead of apologizing at a later time. (I’m sure the person will think you’ve got some serious problems if you write an apology for stepping on their foot.)
For a more serious problem, take the time to get in a good environment where you can honestly apologize and the person can safely respond. Keep out of the “boiling room” by trying to apologize when the two of you have red-hot emotions.
It may help to give the person time after your apology. You can have all the right ingredients for a meal, but time is needed to cook the ingredients. Provide the person with extra space to let the person come to terms with what happened. Letting your apology seep in could be what makes your apology successful.
Explain What Happened
Why did you make the mistake? You are not justifying what you did (this would only make your apology worse). Let the person know of your faults. Become vulnerable. Explain to the person that you didn’t see them there, you let your anger get the better of you, you were ignorant, you should have understood them better – whatever the mistake maybe.
Can You Face the Mistake?
It can be hard to raise a topic you have avoided for years. I encourage you to check out my Big Talk program to learn how to face the tough topics in your life that you are too afraid to confront. It shows you how to face your fears over difficult subjects so you can talk openly and safely with people to improve your relationships. You can discover more about the program by clicking here.
Explain why you did what you did without blaming the mistake on external circumstances. It is tempting when explaining your mistake to shift the explanation onto the other person. You start off by saying, “I’m sorry for not taking out the garbage…” then your selfishness can kick in as you say “…but I always take out the rubbish and you don’t ever do it!” Explain the problem, but don’t convert it into someone else’s problem through a non-apology.
Use the who, what, why, when, and how to get you started in explaining your mistake. A full explanation can be unnecessary. Just say what you think will help clarify the situation between you two.
One last point about explaining is to avoid going overboard with your apologies and make a big issue over something small. It’s annoying to have someone constantly say “sorry” or use other forms of apologizing when you have forgiven the person and moved on. When the person forgives you, move on.
Sympathy – Display Your Social Emotions
Sympathy is a powerful “social emotion”. It is an expression of pain felt by the person you hurt. Social emotions create cooperation and understanding. We do not learn in school how to feel another person’s pain. We have innate social emotions that make us feel, behave, and act in a way that complies with social codes.
Remorse, embarrassment, and guilt are important emotions to display in your verbal and nonverbal communication when giving an apology.
Remorse, embarrassment, and guilt are important emotions to display in your verbal and nonverbal communication when giving an apology. A guilty individual showing remorse is more likely to give a successful apology than someone who hides social emotions.
Display sorrow for your actions. Communicate sympathy to show you understand the person’s pain and your mistakes. If you want, you can go one step further than sympathy by showing empathy. Try hard to experience what the person feels. (See here for a more detailed discussion on sympathy versus empathy.) The pain connects the two of you to build understanding and harmony.
Share the person’s pain by reflecting your feelings about the mistake with something as simple as:
- “I’m sorry I lied to you. I feel guilty that I’ve let you down.”
- “Having scratched the car, I feel ashamed that something so careless will hurt our finances.”
- “I feel I have let you down and hurt our relationship by yelling at you.”
A common misunderstanding with sympathy is you focus on yourself, diverting attention from the hurt person. Sympathy shows the person you also suffer from your blunder. The person will be more understanding and willing to discuss their feelings because you expressed yours. The person may even be happy to receive this bit of secret revenge. If someone hurts us, we get a little kick of happiness seeing them also suffer from their actions.
Review What Happened
If an apology failed, do not take it personally. Failure is a result, not a person. If your apology failed and you are certain you successfully applied all these tips, try alternative forms of apologizing, such as writing an apology or getting someone else to apologize for you. Do not forget that letting time pass could make your apology a success.
On the other hand, if your apology was successful, congratulations! Be grateful for the person’s forgiveness and a second chance. Learn from your mistake and move on.
Do not dwell on the past. You have a great future ahead of you. Make use of it by putting your attention on what you can do this very moment to improve the relationship. You are now ready to complete emotional healing and freedom with forgiveness.
Links to all four parts of this course, “Freeing Yourself From Mistakes and Pain: A Four Part Course On Apologizing and Emotional Freedom”:
Joshua Uebergang aka "Tower of Power"
Joshua Uebergang, aka "Tower of Power", teaches social skills to help shy guys build friends and influence people. Visit his blog and sign-up free to get communication techniques, relationship-boosting strategies, and life-building tips by email, along with blog updates, and more! Go now to http://www.towerofpower.com.au/free/