- Apologies should be sincere, open, and thought through.
- When apologizing know what you are apologizing for and why.
- We talked to experts on what should go into an apology.
After fighting with a friend, partner, or family member, it can be tough to make amends. But disagreements, whether large or small, don’t have to spell the end of a relationship.
To find out the best ways to apologise, INSIDER talked to Matt Lundquist, LSCW, MSEd, and Rachel Sussman, LCSW.
Here are 13 tips that will help you apologise in a healthy and effective way.
Ask yourself if you actually have something to apologise for
Before you start apologizing for something you’ve said or done, determine if you’re actually at fault.
“There are instances when individuals are called upon to apologise when they haven’t really done something wrong or when what they have done isn’t as severe as they’re being made to believe,” Matt Lundquist, LSCW, MSEd, told INSIDER.
Lundquist explained that apologizing for something that’s not a transgression or being coerced into making an apology can be unfair or even abusive, depending on the situation.
Acknowledge you’ve done something wrong by using an ‘I’ statement
It may seem obvious, but the first component of an effective apology is admitting that you’ve done something wrong, according to Greater Good in Action(GGIA), a collaboration between the University of California, Berkeley and wellness-focused social innovation lab Hopelab that synthesizes scientific studies about leading a happier life.
In an interview with INSIDER, Rachel Sussman, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert, said that one of the best ways to acknowledge that you may have hurt someone is by using an “I” statement, such as “I apologise” or “I know what I did was wrong.”
Explain the error of your ways
After you acknowledge you’ve made a mistake, the next step is explaining what went wrong.
GGIA suggests stating why you acted out of turn, but avoiding excuses like “You were really getting on my nerves.”
Good communication skills are necessary to make a healthy apology
According to Sussman, poor communication skills can make it difficult for people, notably couples, to apologise.
“Usually there is one person who is either in the wrong or who escalated a fight. Maybe they weren’t in the wrong, but in the fight, they said some really hurtful things,” Sussman told INSIDER.
Make sure you’re sincere
Lundquist told INSIDER that an unhealthy apology is one that is insincere. If you’re just going through the motions of making an apology, it won’t be as effective as when you deeply believe in your words.
Similarly, Sussman says that an apology should be “spoken from the heart.”
A study published in 2014 in the journal Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes also backs up this idea. The study found that people were more likely to accept apologies made by CEOs when they execs looked sad. When CEOs had happy or neutral expressions, their apologies weren’t as effective.
Understand that an apology isn’t an instant remedy
Although it can be the first step to making amends, an apology is not a panacea against bad behaviour.
“There are certain types of folks who believe they can do something wrong and apologise, and an apology is a kind of instant remedy, an eraser,” Lundquist told INSIDER. “And when an apology is being used as a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card, I think it’s obviously quite unhealthy.”
Show empathy for the person or people you hurt
Sussman said that a good apology shows empathy for the person or people who were hurt.
“You don’t have to say the words ‘I’m sorry,'” she said, adding that some alternative phrases include “I regret my behaviour,” “I know I hurt you,” and “I apologise for the way I behaved.”
Be open-minded about how your behaviour affects others
By keeping an open mind about how our behaviour affects those around us, it’s easier to have honest conversations about our feelings.
“I think there’s a lot of value in being open and curious about the impact of your behaviour or choice or action on the other person, and taking some time to sit with them and say, ‘I’d like to find out more about how come that upset you to better understand your experience,'” Lundquist said.
Explain what you’ve learned from apologizing
Once you’ve made an apology, you can go above and beyond by explaining what you’ve learned from your actions.
Sussman describes this step as “the icing on the cake.”
Ask for forgiveness
Experts agree that the final step of making an effective apology is asking for forgiveness.
An example would be saying something like “I know it might take you a while, but I just hope you’ll be able to forgive me,” as Guy Winch, Ph.D., wrote in an article for Psychology Today.
Understand there’s more than one way to apologise
When it comes to apologies, it’s not one-size-fits-all. How we acknowledge our offenses varies from situation to situation and working through our emotions is often a collaborative process.
“I think it’s a mistake to presume there are fixed, rigid rules or categories for apologizing, or for many things in life,” said Lundquist, who studied philosophy in college and draws on concepts such as ethics in his approach to therapy. “I have a strong appreciation for the ways in which, in the context of relationships, people need to be able to figure out together the kinds of rules and norms and values they want to have and the ways that they want to be treated.”
Apologise in person rather than via text message if you can
Texting may be the norm when it comes to communication, especially for millennials. But getting in some face time can make a world of difference when you’re apologizing.
Still, Sussman understands that some people are uncomfortable making an apology one-on-one. Instead, they can talk on the phone or even write an email.
“Sometimes an email is a great way to send an apology,” she said. “It’s like in the old days [when] someone would send a letter.”
Plus, writing down an apology can help you flesh out your thoughts, she said.
Be willing to walk away from a relationship if someone isn’t open to hearing your apology
We can try our best to apologise, but if someone doesn’t want to listen, it’s often out of our control.
“You might say, ‘I’m trying to have an effective conversation about something that hurt me, and if you don’t seem to be able to do that or don’t have any interest in it, I’ve got nothing else to say,'” Sussman said.
When a person shuts you down when you’re trying to apologise, it could be a sign that you need to reevaluate that friendship or relationship.
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