Ever receive an apology that felt more like you were being blamed instead? I’ve been noticing some folks have forgotten how to apologize, or perhaps never learned in the first place, and maybe it's time for a refresher on how to apologize properly.
A sincere, effective apology can be a game changer. It can break-down walls, open doors and build bridges to deeper understanding and connection. Even more importantly than that, it’s simply the right thing to do.
First, let’s identify how not to apologize...
The CONDITIONAL Apology
When you hear the word “if” come after "I'm sorry" you should immediately sound the disqualifying buzzer. It does not count as a true apology. For example, “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings,” suggests the apology stands only IF the other person’s feelings were hurt. What that apology is actually saying is “IF your feelings are hurt, then I guess I’m sorry. Otherwise, meh, never mind, I'm not sorry.” If you did or said something hurtful, you ought to be sorry for it regardless of how it landed for the other person. If you’ve said or done something that even might have hurt someone, an apology is warranted, and should be given generously, not held in abeyance until the hurt feelings are confirmed. The other person’s reaction has nothing to do with it and should have no bearing on whether or not you’re sorry.
The NO APOLOGY Apology
“I’m sorry you feel that way” is what I like to call the No Apology-Apology. In other words, it’s not really so much an apology, as it is shaming the other person for feeling some kind of way, and avoiding all responsibility for your own actions. “I’m sorry you feel that way” is basically a sugar-coated version of: “Sorry you’re too sensitive that you can’t take a joke.”
Also in this category: saying "I owe you an apology" or "I need to apologize" and then never actually saying “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.”
The EXCUSES Apology
Another word that has no business in an apology is "but." If you hear this: “I’m sorry, but….” you know you’re being taken to the Land of Excuses and the apology has been left far behind. The problem with this apology is obvious - there’s no responsibility taken. The person isn't even focused on the thing he/she did or said, only on the excuse or explanation for why it happened. Nope, no bueno!
So what is an effective apology? That’s simple, and I mean that literally. The truest intention of an apology should be to take responsibility and convey that you're sorry. Period. That is done best when It's kept basic and simple. Let’s break it down the way my eighth grade English teacher would have when she diagrammed a sentence. An apology must contain the words “I’m sorry,” followed by the action or words that were said, followed by an acknowledgement for how it might have affected the person, followed by nothing else but a PERIOD. End of sentence! Zip it! No qualifiers, no IFs, no explanations or excuses, no blaming the other, no being a victim of circumstance. Say it powerfully and own it.
Example1: “I’m sorry I said those things about your friend. It was rude and hurtful.”
Example 2: “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about what happened last weekend. I shouldn't have kept that information from you, and I realize that now you may feel like you can't trust me.”
...My eighth grade English teacher would be so proud.
Yes of course there is space and time for more more discussion about what happened, if that’s appropriate, but the apology itself will be most effective when it is nothing other than a heart-felt, authentic, sincere, real apology.
I think a lot us feel resistant to apologizing because we think it makes us weak, or puts us in a vulnerable position. But why? Why are we so resistant to being soft and vulnerable sometimes? Especially in those moments when we’ve actually done something to apologize for! Yikes, now my eighth grade English teacher would be cringing at that dangling preposition. I believe a good apology will shine, while a BS apology will wither. *womp-womp* Own your stuff and say I'm sorry. It matters.