If you grew up in a dysfunctional family home, you most likely never learned to apologize effectively. As an adult, you probably apologize by quickly stating that you are “sorry” and then making excuses for your behavior or shifting blame to others. However, stating you are sorry does not convince people you are actually sorry. Demonstrating remorse is more important.
At times you need to apologize even if you don’t necessarily feel you did anything wrong. For example, if someone perceived you as angry, it is better to just say, “I’m sorry I made you feel that way,” rather than argue or defend yourself. This doesn’t mean you are saying you are wrong. You are simply acknowledging that the other person had negative feelings and that it wasn’t your intention for them to feel this way. Apologizing shows people you are sensitive to their emotions.
In many ways, you may start your apology with words, but you must follow up with more intentional ways of indicating regret to show the person you are actually sorry. Buying someone flowers, taking them to dinner, or begging for forgiveness may temporarily make the situation better, but following the three steps below will create lasting change. Remember learning to apologize effectively is a skill you can learn and practice.
3 Steps to an Effective Apology
Admit wrongdoing. Be specific and go beyond saying you are sorry. State specifically what went wrong. For example, if you yelled at your spouse, you might say, “I’m sorry that I yelled at you.” Avoid making excuses for your behavior or shifting blame to your spouse. Focus only on the facts of what you did.
Apologize for how you made the other person feel, regardless of whether you felt the person misunderstood your intentions. Take time to think about how your actions made the other person feel. With respect to yelling at your spouse, you might say, “I am sorry that I made feel disrespected, sad, and angry when I yelled at you.“
Share a plan for how you will avoid making the same mistake in the future. Remember if you keep making the same mistake over and over again, then you are failing to consider how your behavior is affecting the other person, and as a result, you will be perceived as unremorseful. So make sure to create a realistic plan for preventing the mistake in the future. For example, with respect to yelling at your spouse, you might say, “Next time when I get upset, I will try to notice when I am feeling angry and walk away. I’ll count to 10 and take deep breathes to calm myself.”
Sometimes it is impossible to effectively apologize if you get triggered by negative feedback or feel the feedback is unwarranted or unjustified. As a result, be prepared to make mistakes apologizing. If you ineffectively apologize, recognize your error and return to the person with a more effective apology. If you grew up in a dysfunctional family home, it may be very difficult for you to effectively apologize. You might even feel following the three steps in this article are stupid, that people are too sensitive, and that they need to get over it. You might even feel resentful and annoyed when following these three steps. However, learning to effectively apologize will help improve your relationships at home and at work.
If you are experiencing relationship conflict and need help, please feel free to reach out to me to make an appointment, Please note: when couples work with me, they are required to write and read apology letters to each other in the session. In addition, when families work with me, parents and children are both required to write and read apology letters to each other.