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How to Say Sorry: 8 Steps for Making an Effective Apology

Apologizing can be difficult, but doing it effectively is an important interpersonal skill. Have you experienced some times where your apology was not accepted, or even worse, only made things worse? Today, we are talking about how to avoid these.

First of all it is important to know that maintaining healthy relationships in our personal and professional lives requires knowing how to properly apologize when we've made a mistake. This shows maturity, accountability, and care for the other person. An effective apology can repair trust, resolve conflicts, and strengthen bonds.

woman sipping a drink outdoors

Image by @FisayoLonge

8 Steps for Apologizing Effectively

Follow these eight steps for crafting an apology that demonstrates true remorse:

  1. Reflect on what happened. Consider how your actions impacted the other person and take responsibility for the mistake. Don't make excuses. No buts!

  2. Apologize as soon as possible. Don't wait to say you're sorry. The sooner the better.

  3. Express empathy. Let the person know you understand how they feel and that you care. "I'm sorry I hurt you. I know that must have been really hard."

  4. Admit fault. Say the words "I was wrong" or "I made a mistake". Don't blame external factors. Own up to your error.

  5. Provide context, not justification. Explain what led to your actions but don't try to defend them.

  6. Make amends. Offer to do something to repair the situation. "What can I do to make this right?"

  7. Ask for forgiveness. Say "Will you please forgive me?" Understand if more time is needed.

  8. Plan changed behavior. State what you'll do differently going forward. Follow through consistently.

Let's play this out in a scenario:

My friend Miriam and I made plans to go shopping over the weekend. When the day arrived, I was tired and decided to cancel on her last minute. I texted Miriam that I couldn't make it instead of telling her directly. The next day, Miriam reached out to tell me how disappointed she was that I bailed without a real explanation.

As soon as I got her text, I called Miriam to apologize. "Miriam, I am so sorry for canceling our plans like that. I know that was really inconsiderate and hurtful. I should have talked to you directly instead of texting."

I explained that I had several big deadlines at work this week that kept me up late every night. While that's no excuse, I was just completely drained and not thinking clearly. Miriam, I made a mistake and that was not a thoughtful way to treat our friendship.

I understand if you're upset with me. I want to make it up to you. Let me treat you to a spa day my treat next weekend. I hope you can forgive me, but I understand if you need some time. I promise I will be more considerate about how I communicate with you going forward. I really value our friendship.

This apology demonstrated accountability and the value of Amy's friendship.

The Keys to an Effective Apology

It is important to be aware that pride can get in the way of an effective apology. The most important elements of an effective apology are:

  • Sincerity - Mean what you say without reservation. It should be heartfelt.

  • Specificity - Don't say "I'm sorry" generically. Demonstrate you know precisely how you erred.

  • Timeliness - The sooner the better. Don't delay the apology.

  • Remorse - Express regret for the impact of your actions.

  • Changed behavior - Back up your words with demonstrable change in how you act going forward.

Apologizing well requires vulnerability, courage and maturity. We all make mistakes. It's how we handle them that defines our character. Follow these guidelines to apologize effectively and strengthen your relationships.


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