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Which would you prefer to hear? “I’m sorry you’re mad that I was late,” or “I’m sorry I was late. I know it was rude, and it messed up your night. In the future, I will leave home extra early to make sure I arrive on time.”
It’s a safe bet that everyone would pick the second apology. In fact, the first sentence couldn’t really be classified as an apology. But all too often, our statements resemble the first apology more than the second. Why is that?
Sometimes our pride gets in the way of admitting we were wrong. We also might be genuinely unsure as to why someone is upset, but hope an apology of some sort will help. Then there are those who have simply never learned how to apologize.
How To Say You’re Sorry
If you fall in that third category, learning how to apologize is essential to maintain healthy relationships. Conflict and making mistakes are inevitable. We know that we will eventually hurt someone, so we must also know how to apologize. If you find yourself in a situation that calls for an apology, follow these steps to say you’re S.O.R.R.Y.
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(S)ay it: This may seem obvious, but you have to begin by saying you’re sorry. Start with “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” But don’t’ stop there. Express remorse and be specific. What are you sorry for and what do you need to admit? “I’m sorry I yelled at you. I lost my patience, and that was wrong.” Be sincere.
(O)wn it: Don’t make excuses for your words or actions. Admit what you did. It might even be helpful to take this to the next level and let the person know you recognize the results of your actions. Empathize with what they must be going through as a result of what you said or did. “I know what I said hurt you. I know it must have been hard to hear, especially after everything you’ve done for me. It was wrong of me to say those things.”
(R)epair and (R)estore: Make an effort to repair the relationship. Do something to set things right. You could say something like, “I want to make this up to you. If there’s anything I can do, just ask.” Or “I realize I have been neglecting our relationship. I’d like to set aside at least one night each week for a date with you.”
(Y)earn for change: As you seek ways to repair and restore the relationship, look to make changes. Not only should you tell the person that you’re sorry, follow up by demonstrating that it won’t happen again. None of us are perfect and we are guaranteed to fail again in some way, but explain how you plan to make changes that will stop you from repeating this mistake. For example, if you’re chronically late, promise to change your habits by leaving home earlier.
As you work your way through this process, you will also encounter a few pitfalls to avoid.
- Don’t harbor ulterior motives. Your apology must be sincere.
- Don’t make excuses. Own what you did and move on. Tagging on excuses weakens your apology or negates it entirely.
- Don’t wait. As soon as you know you’ve wronged someone, apologize. You may need a little time to cool off, think things through and prepare what you want to say. That’s fine. However, failure to act quickly will likely make the situation worse.
- Don’t make empty promises. If you tell someone you are going to make a change, do it. If you say you will do what you can to make up for your wrong, follow through on this statement. Breaking a promise to change causes distrust and further harms the relationship.
- Don’t expect open arms. More often than not, the person you hurt will need time to heal. They might not accept your apology or not accept it immediately. Even if they do, they might not be ready to restore the relationship yet. You can still make the offer, but realize you can’t make them forgive you. Knowing how to say you’re sorry also means knowing how to wait.
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