When we have hurt or humiliated someone, an apology is in order. If the offense was minor, an immediate apology may be effective at mending the rent. Sometimes, the apology may need to wait until emotions have cooled. Apologies should be done face to face, over a cup of tea, perhaps. The telephone or e-mail apology is often perceived as insincere, and should be avoided unless there is no other option.

The definition of apology is “an expression of remorse or guilt over having done something that is acknowledged to be wrong, and a request for forgiveness.” There are several steps:

  1. Realize that what you did was wrong and probably hurt this person.
  2. Realize that there is no excuse. Do not try to think of or offer one. An apology with an excuse is not an apology. Take Full Responsibility.
  3. Begin the apology by naming the offense and the feelings it may have caused. Be specific about the incident so that they know exactly what you’re apologizing for. Make it a point to avoid using the word “but.” Saying “I apologize, but . . . ” is not an apology.
  4. Do NOT say “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry if you were offended.” Be sorry for what you DID! A proper apology is always about the injured party. Keep your apology focused on the actual wrong done, and the recipient.
  5. Validate their feelings or discomfort by acknowledging your transgression’s (potential) effects, while taking responsibility: “I am sorry for being late for carpooling this morning. I hope it doesn’t add stress to the commute.”
  6. Make amends. Find the underlying problem, describe it to the person (as an explanation, not an excuse), and tell them what you intend to do to rectify that problem so that you never repeat this mistake again: “I’ve been doing my exercise in the morning and leaving the house later. I will get up earlier from now on so that I am not late again.”
  7. Express your appreciation for the role they play in your life, emphasizing that you do not want to jeopardize or damage the relationship.
  8. Ask if they will give you a chance to make up for what you did wrong. Insist on proving to them that you have learned from your mistake, and that you will take action to change and grow as a result, if they will let you. Make a clear request for forgiveness and wait for their answer. This gives the injured party the well deserved “power” in determining the outcome of the situation.
  9. Be patient. If an apology is not accepted, thank them for hearing you out and leave the door open for if they wish to reconcile later. (E.g. “I understand you’re still upset about it, but thanks for giving me the chance to apologize. If you ever change your mind, please give me a call.”) If you are lucky enough for your apology to be accepted, avoid the temptation to throw in a few excuses at the end. Instead, have a transition planned out beforehand for what you can do to solidify the clean slate (e.g. “Let’s go get a cup of tea and catch up. It’ll be my treat. I miss knowing what you’re up to.”)
  10. Stick to your word. This is the most important step. A true apology entails a resolution, and you have to carry out your promise in order for the apology to be sincere and complete. Otherwise, your apologies will lose their meaning, and trust may disappear beyond the point of no return. Follow through.

Editor’s note: the ideas and content for this post were gleaned from another source.

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