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How to Really, Truly Apologize (When You’re Wrong And You Know It)

Many people apologize but don’t really apologize. Like a dead fish handshake, a lukewarm apology is revealing of one’s character. Or maybe you’re not aware that your apologies are incomplete, yes, I said incomplete, because you are pulling from your heart and being sincere. Totally fair. Many don’t, which is why I’m writing this.

An effective apology has three parts. Most of us give one or two of the three and our apology is half baked. Make sure your apologies have all three:

1. Acknowledge how your action affected the person.

The key word here is acknowledge. If you don’t acknowledge what you’re apologizing for, there is no ownership. You may just be stating facts or what happened. But not owning what you did or didn’t do. Remember, it’s less about right or wrong and more about how your behavior impacted the other person. Whether you agree or not is not the point. You are taking responsibility for how your words or actions made someone feel.

2. Say you’re sorry.

Duh. But many don’t say it. They skirt. They swim. They say everything but. “Sorry” has to literally come out of your mouth if you want your apology to stick. And if you’re wondering why, then you’re really not sorry or your ego is blocking a sincere apology. You have to actually say the words, “I am sorry” somewhere in your apology. I would start with it and end with it. No need to say it fifty times. That will backfire. Less is more in this case.

3. Describe what you’re going to do to make it right or make sure it doesn’t happen again. Don’t excuse or explain.

The closer. The bow on top. The nail in the coffin. This is how you seal the deal. No “buts” or explaining why you did what you did or said what you said. This isn’t a time to try to convince someone or get them to see your point of view. If you do that, know that you’re taking away from the other two previous steps. So stay on track and finish your effective apology. Also, no super elaborate plan that you’re not going to uphold. If you go overboard, your sorry won’t hit as hard. It will sound like you’re trying to overcompensate. Just simple and honest.

Okay, now for an examples.

First, the not so effective apology.

Hey, listen. I know you’re mad at me because you didn’t feel like I was present on your birthday. But I’m going through a lot right now. I’m like at the most important point in my career. There’s a lot on my plate. You know that. And I bought you the shoes you wanted. Those were really expensive. Anyway, let’s just put that night behind us. I’m here now. I love you.

Now, the effective apology.

Hey, I want to say I’m sorry (← opening I’m sorry) for being so distant on your birthday. I know I was in my head and not present with you and it made you feel rejected and unimportant (← acknowledging how it made her feel). That wasn’t my intention. I’m going to make more of an effort to be present by leaving work at work. I’m also going to do meditate more as you suggested. Again, I’m sorry (← closing I’m sorry)

  • Angry

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Author of “I Used To Be A Miserable F*CK” . IG: theangrytherapist.

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