Here’s how to apologize when you are wrong and how not to apologize too much.
Social support is a pleasurable and often necessary form of connection in our lives. Nevertheless, from time to time, all of us have conflicts in our relationships that may need to be remedied. In most cases, a good apology can help you and the other people involved resolve the issue.
We hear the words, “I’m sorry”, all the time. We may utter the words if we accidentally bump into someone on the street or even if we didn’t hear someone properly. But the phrase, “I’m sorry”, isn’t always just about simple mistakes. Sometimes we can really hurt the people in our lives with our words and actions, which may require an apology.
Apologizing is the act of expressing regret or remorse to someone when you have done something wrong. A sincere and genuine apology goes beyond just saying “I’m sorry.” A good example of an apology can include the following ingredients:
1. Acknowledgment and responsibility for your actions
2. Regret about how you made the other person(s) feel
3. An intent to change your behavior (and following through with your intent) so you don’t make the same mistake again
4. Asking what you could to do make amends
Apologies can help the wrongdoer take responsibility for their actions and help reduce any guilt they may hold about their behavior. Subsequently, a good apology can make the person who was wronged feel better, heard, and understood. Apologies can be a great source of building communication between you and your relationships and can allow an opportunity to learn from your mistakes (Howell, Turowski, & Buro, 2012; Schumann & Dweck, 2014).
“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”
There are several examples of contexts in which apologies may be necessary. For example, maybe you missed an important deadline on a project at work and failed to communicate any challenges you had. Perhaps this mistake lost you a client or added more work for a coworker or supervisor. You are human and mistakes happen. However, an apology could be necessary to clear the air about miscommunication and allow you the opportunity to offer ways to help.
Whether you are at work, school, at home with your family, out with your partner and friends, or interacting with a stranger, mistakes can happen anywhere. Typically, when you make a mistake or hurt someone, it is important to apologize to the person or people affected. Apologizing to others can be a really difficult experience. A gentle reminder that it is okay to be nervous, anxious, or worried about how the apology will go. We are here to help provide you with concrete examples of how to apologize to others.
1. What I did was wrong and I am so sorry for hurting you.
2. I wish I could take back what I said (or did) and be more considerate of your feelings.
3. Next time, I will be more mindful about what I say (or do).
4. What can I do right now to make you feel better or help our relationship?
As you may have noticed, these four sentences match the ingredients of a good apology that were listed above. It is important to note that every apology may not follow this exact formula, as your apology will likely have to be tailored to the situation and the person you are communicating with. However, this is a good basis to start from and later alter if you are trying to find the right words for your apology.
A critical key to apologizing sincerely is saying your apology with empathy. It may not have been your intention to hurt someone, but you still made an impact on them that caused hurt. Being able to see how they felt in this situation and understanding how it could have affected them is what being empathetic encompasses.
● If you had to cancel plans at the last minute: I am so sorry I had to cancel our dinner when you had already made it to the restaurant. I should have let you know in advance that I was having a long day and wouldn’t be able to be present with you. You deserve to be treated with more respect and I will ensure that I give you that next time.
● If you took a joke too far: I am truly sorry for poking fun at you. Although it wasn’t my intention to hurt your feelings, I recognize that my words were hurtful. What can I do to make this better?
● If you broke a nice vase at your friend’s house: I am sorry and feel awful about accidentally breaking your vase. It was beautiful and I should have been much more careful. I am happy to cover the cost and buy you a new one. What type of vase would you like?
As you may notice, apologies can be expressed in a myriad of ways. In order to be sincere, it is important to be empathetic, put the other person’s feelings first, and personalize your apology to fit the situation.
Hopefully, you don’t find yourself in frequent situations where apologies are necessary. But in case you do, remember that even though apologizing can be scary, it can also help you learn and improve your relationships.
● Howell, A. J., Turowski, J. B., & Buro, K. (2012). Guilt, empathy, and apology. Personality and Individual Differences, 53(7), 917-922.
● Schumann, K., & Dweck, C. S. (2014). Who accepts responsibility for their transgressions?. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 40(12), 1598-1610