It's only human to make mistakes. If your behavior has hurt another person, the first step toward making amends is to offer a genuine apology. An apology should express regret, accept blame and promise redress, according to Beverly Engel in the UMass Amherst Family Business Center article, "How to Give a Meaningful Apology.” If you come across as desperate, it won't make the other person more likely to forgive you, so bear this in mind when saying sorry.
1. Swallow Your Pride
Don't put off apologizing because you are worried it makes you look desperate, or is akin to an admission that you are a bad person, says Guy Winch, a licensed psychologist, in the article, "Why Some People Refuse to Apologize" in "Psychology Today." Saying sorry -- and really meaning it -- can be awkward and difficult, and it involves letting down your defenses and possibly releasing a range of pent-up emotions. It can also be extremely therapeutic, however, and may lead to stronger, closer personal relationships, says Winch.
2. Do It in Person
For your apology to come across as genuine, do it face to face, says advice columnist Slash Coleman in the article, "10 Ways to Apologize Appropriately" in "Psychology Today." If you are tempted to do it by text, email or through social media -- don't. If you can’t apologize in person, a phone call is the next best thing, says Coleman.
3. Express Regret
Your apology should include a statement that you regret having hurt the other person. For the apology to appear genuine, it must be accompanied by empathy. Without empathy, your apology will come across as hollow, warns Engel. Remember, the purpose of your apology is to acknowledge the damage you caused. To avoid coming across as desperate, don't labor the point. Keep it simple, but warm. For example, say, "I'm so sorry I hurt your feelings" or "I am truly sorry for the pain I have caused you."
4. Take Responsibility
Apologizing involves taking responsibility for what you did. Say something like, "I'm sorry I said those things to you. I know they were hurtful" or "I'm sorry I lied to you. You have every right to be mad with me." Resist the temptation to make excuses for your actions, or to blame someone else for what happened. If you try to justify what you did, you may come across as simply desperate for forgiveness -- rather than being genuinely sorry. The only motive behind your apology should be that you want to repair the damage you have caused, say relationship counselors Linda Bloom and Charlie Bloom in the article, "Read This Before You Apologize to Her (or Him)" in "Psychology Today."
5. Promise Remedy
A crucial part of an apology is an assurance that you have learnt from your mistake and won't let it happen again. The person you are apologizing to needs to believe that you won't repeat the behavior that lead to the hurt, says Engel. You may say something like, "I'm so sorry for cheating on you. I'm going to seek professional help to work through my commitment issues" or "I'm sorry I forgot your birthday. I promise it won't happen again."
6. Back Off
After you have made your apology, give the other person time to digest it. Don't expect immediate forgiveness or reassurance that everything will go back to how it once was, warns relationship counselor Elly Prior in the article, "How to Apologize Gracefully" on her website, Professional Counselling. If you receive a negative reaction to your apology, remove yourself from the situation and keep your distance for a while. The other person may need space to think things through. Never beg for forgiveness, as this smacks of desperation, is likely to cause irritation, and may put pressure on the other person, say Linda and Charlie Bloom. After a few days, consider sending a polite, friendly email or a bunch of flowers with a card saying, "I'm sorry" to back up your initial apology, and to show that you mean it.
- UMass Amherst Family Business Center: How to Give A Meaningful Apology
- Professional Counseling: How to Apologize Gracefully
- Psychology Today: Read This Before You Apologize to Her (or Him)
- Psychology Today: 10 Ways to Apologize Appropriately
- Psychology Today: The Power of Apology
- Psychology Today: Why Some People Refuse to Apologize
- Brand X Pictures/Stockbyte/Getty Images