When you say, “I’m sorry” do you really mean it? Politicians and celebrities apologize all the time to the public, let me clear, I don’t mean those apologies; not the scripted apologies we are used to seeing in the media. Nor, do I mean the apologies that are said in the midst of an argument and are usually followed by more arguing and a “Well, I said I was sorry!” I mean, a sincere humbling apology that comes from the heart.
The power of a genuine apology among those who’ve really felt its healing power is beautiful. I’ve seen it magically stop a scraped knee on the playground from hurting so much. It can bring estranged friends and family together after years apart. It can heal. I’d even go as far to say that a true apology might even salvage a romantic relationship near the brink of ending. So, with all that power in a single word, why is it so hard for some people to say (and mean) they are sorry? Maybe it’s machismo? Maybe it’s shame or guilt? Embarrassment? Fear of rejection? Unhealthy Pride? Insecurity? Yes. Sure. Probably.
What about you? Do you know how to apologize to someone AND really mean it?
Well today is your lucky day amigas, I have done you a solid and created a guide for you. I know that sounds silly, but there is purpose. We throw around the word “sorry” so much that for many, it has lost its meaning and power. This guide is meant for you to reflect on your own understanding of a meaningful apology and offer some direction. Are your own apologies heartfelt? There are a few other suggested ways to apologize floating around out there (some up to 20 steps, ayayay!), but I stuck to the most simple and meaningful ways, that I have seen successful, both in real life and in therapy with clients.
It is simple, but not always easy. I promise, though, that learning how to sincerely apologize will not only help you in ALL of your relationships, assist you in conflict resolving, help you increase your EQ (Emotional IQ) but will also enhance your abilities to connect with others on a very intimate and meaningful level.
All those powers in one little word? Yup! What are you waiting for? Get to it.
Step One: Acknowledge what you have done, that you are sorry and take ownership. Don’t try to explain why or make excuses, this will just dilute and negate the apology.
I’m so sorry that I didn’t show up to your wedding/party/event/etc. I know this was important to you. That was really inconsiderate of me.
Step Two: Reassure that you will take action so it will not likely happen again and how you will. Maybe even identify what you could’ve done differently. Again, commonly people try to excuse and rationalize why they did what they did…don’t. This part can get a bit tricky and it also weeds out a sincere apology from a meaningless one because you MUST mean it. If the behavior occurs again, well then, you’ve lost credibility. If the apology is for a repeated behavior, then it is often harder to be trusted with your apology.
I should’ve called you to let you know I wasn’t going to show up. If I’m ever going to be late or can’t make it, I will make every effort to call or text you. I feel really bad about it.
* Remember: you are apologizing for your behavior not for you as a person, so don’t say things like “I’m a terrible person” or “I’d totally hate me too”.
Step Three: Restoration. Restoration is the next step, a gesture to make it “right” and restore back to “normal”. Now for most, the assurance of the behavior not happening again is enough (See step 2). For certain apologies, something more significant is warranted.
You might pay for or replace a lost or broken personal item or extend a hand to help the person you accidentally tripped. Even a nod, wave or look to the driver you accidentally cut off can bring peace and make things right. Remember, sometimes even the slightest gestures of restoration can go a long way.
Step Four: (not a necessary step, but a nice gesture) Do something nice; a good deed. Flowers? Maybe a drink on you (not literally) at the next happy hour? A cup of coffee or an extra day driving the carpool perhaps? A good deed is a nice reinforcement to a sincere apology. However, it is not necessary. It shouldn’t be done out of obligation, it should only be done if YOU and only you feel compelled to do so.
*I find this step interesting because so many people misuse it (especially couples) and will skip all the other steps and go straight to this one. This step is shallow and meaningless if not set in the foundation of the previous steps. Remember that.
Step Five: Have no expectation and accept the outcome. You are only responsible for your apology. Whether or not the other person/persons accepts your apology is up to them. You cannot control them. More times than not, the people involved in our apologies are ones we care about and care about us, so it is likely a heartfelt apology will be warmly accepted. HOWEVER, if it is not, or if the acceptance of your apology is not immediate (and it doesn’t have to be), remind yourself that you have done what you feel you needed and wanted to do and that you cannot control others or the outcome, only hope for the best. Do not beg or plead for you apology to be accepted.
There you have it, the anatomy of an apology. Are you surprised at all? Do you feel like apologies given to you in the past, generally follow these guidelines? Or does it explain feelings of dissatisfaction with half-hearted past apologies by someone?
A sincere apology takes courage. Do you owe anyone a sincere apology?