April 7

How to Apologize Effectively


How can two simple words be so difficult to say? 

For many people, saying I’m sorry is a challenge. It can be hard for people to admit when they’ve made a mistake. Instead, they find it easier to maintain a stubborn attitude or shift the blame to another person. 

Even in positive, strong relationships, there will be arguments from time to time. No matter how much you work on yourself and your relationships, as humans we are not able to be 100% all of the time. When it comes to relationships, conflict is inevitable. It is how we handle conflict that allows us to be successful in our friendships, with our significant others and even in the workplace. 

The number one thing you can do to cultivate successful, happy relationships is to learn how to apologize and to do so well. Ignoring wrongs, avoiding your mistakes and purposely causing harm to others will only create a snowball effect. These kinds of activities can cause the demise of even the strongest relationships. They can also build walls, create resentment and ultimately lead to the shutdown of one or the other party. 

Wise people will know that mistakes are meant to be learned from. Anytime we make a mistake, we are lucky to have the opportunity to learn from it and improve for the next time. The same idea can be applied to apologizing in our relationships. It is never too late to start learning the art of the apology, repairing damage that has been done and starting fresh so you can improve for the future. 

The Art of the Apology 

Apologizing is more than saying I’m sorry. To do it well, it really is an art. Both the giver and the receiver of the apology must work together to overcome an issue. One party must seek forgiveness and the other must deliver it. When it works, there is a great opportunity for love and compassion to grow. When one or the other party is not ready to give or receive an apology, repair cannot be made. 

If you are the one who has made a mistake in a relationship, you must demonstrate your sincere desire to make the situation right. You can show this through the words you choose and the demeanor in which you communicate them. The receiver of the apology also has work to do. They must be willing to accept your apology and be open to repairing past hurts and moving forward. 

Choose your words carefully. 

If you have said or done something that has hurt someone you care about, you should consider crafting your apology with more than the words I’m sorry. The first step to a meaningful apology is to make it clear that you understand the error you’ve made. Then, you want to communicate how you will make it right. Finally, you will show that you will work to improve for next time.

For an example using this framework, let’s consider a situation in which you have hurt a coworker by stating something negative about their work performance. An effective apology that can repair a relationship, rather than shut it down, may sound like this: 

Sarah, I want to acknowledge what I said to you in the break room about the customer service report you created. I recognize that I came off very harshly. Sometimes, I get wrapped up in my own perfectionism and I regret that I took that out on you. I am sorry I said that and I vow that it will never happen again. 

By apologizing in this manner, you are taking responsibility for yourself and making a commitment to the other person that you will improve. This is so much more effective than simply saying I’m sorry.  

Forgiving when you’ve been hurt. 

While the offender must offer a sincere apology, the recipient of the apology has work to do as well. Forgiveness must be truly given in order for your relationship to move past any kind of damage. The person at the receiving end of the apology must commit to not holding a grudge. They have to make an effort to not live in the past, but to live in the now. 

Accepting an apology is also an art form. To do it gracefully to help move a relationship forward, there are several steps you can take. A heartfelt thank you for the apology being offered as well as an acknowledgement of the apology are the first two steps. Then, you can accept the apology allowing both parties to move forward.

Using the example above, Sarah could accept the apology by saying something like this:

Rachel, thank you for saying something. I was upset about what you said because it made me feel like I wasn’t doing a good job, and my work is something I take great pride in. I acknowledge that it must be hard to admit your own vulnerabilities to me and I appreciate and accept your apology. 

The final step

By both parties following the suggestions above, all kinds of relationships can continue to grow strong. Allowing things to fester only causes resentment and chips away at strong relationships. By recognizing that holding on to small things only hurts yourself and the others involved, you can be more open to giving and receiving apologies that really work. 

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