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7 Steps To An Effective Apology

Updated on January 21, 2011

So here you are. You messed up, it was all your fault and you know it. To make matters worse, your mess up has impacted someone else. The question you have before you is, "what are you going to do about it?" As much as you may not want to, as much as it may hurt your pride, you are going to have to apologize. Saying you are sorry is never easy, you want to be sincere without being cheesy, honest without being overly dramatic. So where do you start? Here is a list of seven steps that can help you say you are sorry and begin to mend your relationship with another person. Obviously how you apologize will vary greatly on the person you need to apologize to and whatever egregious act you committed. Whether you didn't follow through on a promise or forgot to pick up the milk on the way home, this should give you some good inspiration on the next steps to take.

"I am sorry."
"I am sorry."

1. Choose an Appropriate Setting

The first step is very situationally dependent. Sometimes an apology will require a one-on-one conversation in a quite, private place. Sometimes it could be done in a coffee shop or even on the phone perhaps. Occasionally it can be done on the fly (if you cut someone off in line) and in the moment. Use your best judgement and make sure you take into account their perspective and feelings. If you are unsure if the issue is a big deal or not, it is best to err on the side of one-on-one time. It will let the other person know that it is important to you.

2. Make Eye Contact

Looking someone in the eye tells them that you are sincere and truthful in what you are saying, you are not afraid to hide your feelings, and you care about how your words are impacting them. All of these things are very important when apologizing to someone. Your words don't have to be poetic and beautiful, but you do have to mean them.

3. Use the words, "I am sorry"

Too many people substitute other phrases for the one phrase that matters in this situation. "That was my bad", "I was wrong", "I didn't mean it", and "I have to apologize" are not actually saying that you are sorry. Only saying the words "I am sorry" are actually saying that you are sorry. 

4. Identify What You Did Wrong, And Why You Are Sorry

Make sure that you follow it up "I am sorry" with what you are sorry for.

Good example: "I am sorry I was late for your performance, I know it is important to you and that when I am late it hurts because it seems like it doesn't matter to me."

And that you actually know what you did wrong.

Bad example: "I am sorry."

"For what?"

"I don't know, you just seem mad."

Identifying what you did wrong and why it impacted that person is an important step to acknowledging the importance of their feelings. It lets them know that you understand the impact, and ultimately that is the most important thing to them in this moment.

5. Give Them The Opportunity to Respond

You need to give them a chance to speak as well. This can be to tell you that you are forgiven (best case scenario) or this can be a time for them to express their feelings of hurt and frustration. It is very important that you do not interrupt, offer rebuttal, or argue during this time. This is their time and it is part of their healing process.

6. Offer Restitution if Necessary

This step can take on a lot of forms. It can also be a time where you are inclined to use hyperbole as a way to break the tension. Fight the urge to do this. For example, "I am sorry we broke the antique Tiffany lamp your mom gave us for our wedding, I promise I will never drink beer, have my friends over, or play indoor whiffle-ball again." It shows a lack of understand the fundamental problem when you exaggerate. The real problem wasn't the beer, your friends or the whiffle-ball, the real problem was a lack of appreciation for the lamp in the first place. If you broke something you can offer to pay for it or replace it. You can also ask the question, "what can I do to make this up to you?" Just make sure you are prepared to follow through.

7. Respect Their Response, No Matter What

You have said your piece and apologized. Now it is their turn to make a decision. Either they accept your apology and get to work repairing the relationship or they choose not to. No matter what choice is made, you must respect their decision. Otherwise you are devaluing their feelings yet again. Remember that feelings change over time, and if they are still angry when you are done apologizing perhaps that will die down later on. It may be hard, but you have given them the choice and you must respect their wishes or your apology will be for nought. But if you are sincere and can effectively communicate your apology, I believe you will find that you will be forgiven and your relationship may even be strengthened by it.


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    • Jack Salathe profile image

      Jack Salathe 7 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my hub! Your comments definitely serve to enrich people's experience. Thank you!

    • IN2Deep profile image

      IN2Deep 7 years ago

      Hopefully many people will read this and learn how to apoligize.

    • profile image

      Precious51 7 years ago

      An empty apology (or no apology) never brings closure. Thanks for sharing.

    • coachb51 profile image

      coachb51 7 years ago from West Point, MS

      Most people are not good with apologies. Thanks for sharing these tips to help us all be more genuine.