The Sincere Apology
Nerves are frayed after a stressful year with COVID-19. There were probably times when you weren’t your best self, whether it was due to a pandemic or other issues. Relationships with family, friends, partners, and coworkers may need healing and reconciliation. This is where learning how to apologize for help. No matter who is at fault, saying “I’m sorry” can ease tensions, but botching your apology can make matters worse.
A Sincere Apology: Four Steps to Repair, As defined by Boston clinical psychologist Molly Howes, Ph.D. She says you should seek to understand the other person’s injury, apologize, make restitution, and promise never to do it again. So, it’s easy to slip up (especially when hurt feelings or defensiveness are involved). So we asked Dr. Howes and other experts for some advice on apologizing.
1. Listen before you apologize
Quick apologies make sense. If you bump into someone in the grocery store, say “sorry” and help them get their groceries. It can be insincere to apologize for more complex issues. So what do you do? Dr. Howes advises SELF to first calmly ask what is bothering the other person. “Shut up and listen, even if it hurts.”
You can better understand the impact of your mistakes if you actively listen to what they’re saying instead of preparing your rebuttal. Make your apology more specific and heartfelt with this knowledge. You can confirm what the other person said and clarify as needed. Attendance also helps you avoid repeating mistakes.
2. Prepare your apology ahead of time
Everyone speaks differently. If you want someone’s forgiveness, connect with them in their comfort zone, not yours, whether it’s (safely) in person, on the phone, via letter, Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, or other multimedia. “Show the draft to someone you trust before sending it,” says Vatsal Thakkar, M.D., a Connecticut psychiatrist. “Write your apology down first to organize your thoughts and get it right.” Even if forgiveness isn’t guaranteed, this small step can help.
3. Apologize in detail
It’s not always enough to express your sorrow. It’s important to acknowledge someone’s vulnerability by expressing your regret, explaining why it happened, and showing how you’ll repair the damage.
To avoid repeating the same mistake in the future, you must emphasize that you understand how you’ve hurt the person (which should be obvious if you’ve been listening actively). If someone is upset that you didn’t return their calls, you might say, “I’m sorry.” That doesn’t excuse anything. You are important to me, and I regret my actions. In the future, I’ll text you as soon as I’m free to call. “
It’s also fine if you can’t explain the transgression. In Dr. Thakkar’s words, “admit it if you don’t know.” Coming clean can help rebuild trust.
4. Don’t make your apology a debate
A simple “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t think you’d mind” can undermine your apology and make the victim feel invalidated. Doubting someone’s pain means you aren’t taking responsibility. To defend ourselves, Dr. Thakkar explains, we use conditional limited contrition and disclaimers. Be unambiguous. Be direct.
It’s also tempting to use an apology to rehash old grudges. Remember, an apology is not a debate. Make sure you don’t use the apology to focus on your emotions.
5. Remember that deeds speak louder than words
Actions may heal a rift better than words. So try to resolve any issues. I snubbed an old friend’s memoir-in-progress. To make amends for my insensitivity, I invited her to bring pages to my writing workshop. “I’d love to,” she said. Hearing my childhood nickname confirmed my return, but I was more supportive this time. Offer recompense or validation for your actions.
6. Wait after apologizing
Heal a broken relationship by trying again and again. In Judaism, there is a teaching that you should apologize three times. Rabbi Joseph Krakoff, senior director of the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network, tells SELF: The lesson is to try to make amends even if complete reconciliation isn’t possible. “Once you express regret, keep your heart open,” Rabbi Krakoff advises.
7. Forgiveness is never too late
In some cases, people leave our lives before we can have a Sincere Apology, or things become too heated to apologize for. Don’t bury your feelings if you’re unsure how to make amends or if making amends isn’t possible.
Instead, talk to a relative, therapist, mentor, or religious leader. Maybe they can help you accept your inability to forgive. They may even act as a forgiveness surrogate if the person you wish to apologize to is unable to speak with you (for example, if they have died).
“You are forgiven,” Rabbi Krakoff tells relatives in hospice work. I’m sorry. Forgive me. We’re inseparable. It was comforting for a daughter estranged from her father. “It brought her closure,” Rabbi Krakoff said. “It allowed her to grieve and handle grief better.”