August 21, 2018

How to apologize

Sometimes we make a fool out of ourselves and hurt others. To some extend, it is inevitable. Navigating one’s own and others’ needs is complicated and sometimes we do or say things that impact others in a negative way. If you’ve done something to someone and you feel like apologizing, it might be good to familiarize yourself with the steps outlined below.

At the same time, you may want to remember the following:

  • If you don’t intend to change, or not repeat what was hurtful to the other, an apology won’t have the same value.
  • A good apology does not mean that the other is obliged to forgive.
  • A good apology is also about you accepting the pain you caused. In that sense, a guilty conscience is meant to make you feel some pain.

Briefly explained, a good apology consists of five ingredients that you will find below. We recommend that you start by writing down a proper apology to the one in question, before trying it out in the real world. You can either send the apology as a letter do it in person, depending on what you think fits best.

1. Acknowledge the pain you inflicted on the other

Put words to what you have done that was hurting or painful to the other. For example, if you said something mean to your partner, you could say, “Listen, I would like to apologize for something. It was not ok for me to that you are selfish and that you are not considerate to the need of the rest of the familiy.”

2. Put words to what it must have been like for the other

Tell the other what you think it must have been like for them. You need to truly empathize and imagine the experience of the other. For example: “I imagine it was both very hurtful and that it felt unfair. You spend so much time and effort on keeping the wheels going here at home, and I imagine you must have felt like I didn’t appreciate it.”

3. Apologize and show remorse

There are some typical mistakes people make when they’re trying to apologize. One is that they talk too much about their own feelings (“I hurts so bad thinking of what I’ve done”). This can make the other feel like you are the one in need of comfort. Another common mistake is that the excuse is followed by “but” (“I am so sorry for what I did, but I was just so angry”). Remember that anything before “but” is BS. Instead, show real remorse for what you did. That means you try to feel the others pain, and that you use that empathy to express what your regret. For example, “I’m so sorry I said you were selfish. I don’t think you are and I shouldn’t have said that. I was wrong to do so”.

4. Say what you should have done instead

Try to tell the other what you should have done instead. This is about helping the other to truly apprehend that you understand what you’ve done. This way you can show that you recognize your role in what happened. For example, “I should have managed to deal with my feelings better and express the despair rather than attacking you. It wasn’t okay”.

5. Wait for the reaction and repeat

When you give someone a genuine apology, one of three things usually happens. One reaction you get is that the other trivializes what happened. In that case, you maintain your apology and your responsibilities in it, and clarify that it should not have happened. Another reaction is that the apology gives the other a clearer experience of the pain that was inflicted. For example, a child may start crying from getting such an apology. Then you can repeat the apology and validate the hurt. If the apology is to a child, you can also use the steps in emotion coaching. The third reaction is one were the apology is accepted. In that case, you are closer to having repaired the injury you caused.