In almost any relationship, eventually someone is bound to do the other person wrong. Whether it’s forgetting an important date, failing to deliver on a promise, or insulting one another (intentionally or not), we all make mistakes that can inflict damage on our cherished connections. So what’s the best way to repair these relationship rifts? By expressing regret and sorrow about our words or actions. But simply saying “I’m sorry” may not be enough, and some overtures inadvertently go wrong when we are trying to reconcile in a relationship. Here are some steps to giving a powerful apology.
The first and perhaps most important thing to do is to own your part. Resist any temptation to dodge the problem or avoid responsibility.
Though it may not be pleasant, reflect on what specific thing you said or did that contributed to the relationship rupture or the other person’s pain. Try to put yourself in his or her shoes to understand another perspective or what harmful impact you may have caused. Sometimes in conflict we have the tendency to get defensive, but I challenge you to have the courage and humility to first identify your own shortcoming and then to own up to it.
One common mistake that is often made when offering apologies is focusing on ourselves. In an attempt to ease our own guilt, we make the apology about us.
For example, perhaps someone says something like, “I’m so sorry for what I did to you. I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I just forgot. It’s one of my biggest weaknesses.” Although it’s helpful to think about our own personal habits in an effort to avoid making the same mistakes over and over, be sure that the bulk of the actual apology is about the other person and not about you. Save your explanations, your reasons, and even your own feelings for another time and place. Phrases like, “I didn’t mean to,” or “it was unintentional” can diminish or undermine the message that you’re trying to get across. It can be very difficult, but don’t flip the conversation around and make it into a justification or a way to excuse yourself. Keep the focus on the individual who you’re apologizing to.
Another way you can make your apology heartfelt is to show your empathy (and not just say it).
So much of our communication is nonverbal, and your body language can say a lot about how sincere you are. Although you may at times find yourself apologizing through an email or over the phone, I challenge you to seek out face-to-face opportunities to offer a personal apology whenever possible. This way, you can use your body, your gestures, and your eyes specifically to demonstrate that you really mean what you are saying.
And finally, your apology must go beyond what you say. If you’re truly regretful and want to make things right, back up your words with action.
An individual who finds herself saying sorry to the same person about the same thing over and over again probably should try a different approach. We are human beings and will make mistakes–even the same mistake more than once–but to be sincere, we have to at least try to make a permanent change in how we treat one another. This is just as important (if not more so) than the actual words you say. So when you really hurt another person, consider how you’ll course correct your behavior to avoid doing so again.
I’ve found these strategies to be helpful in any and all kinds of relationships. Whether it’s work, friendship, or family, use these tips to offer a powerful apology to make reconciliation with someone who you care about.