The Skill of Apologizing- Part Two

For part one of this series, click here.

Most of us learn how to apologize when we are young, from the people who raised us. We can imitate, do the opposite, or craft our own way of offering an apology. It’s important to note that apologizing for your wrongs is an opportunity for you to affirm the kind of person you are: “I take responsibility,” “I right my wrongs,” “I don’t let my wrongdoings define me,” etc. None of us want to be the type of person who hurts others, but we will inevitably do or say something that hurts someone, whether we like it or not. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when apologizing:

• Talk about yourself and about what you see: these should be things that are observable to the other person (“the sad look on your face,” “when I raised my voice,” or “you’ve told me before that you don’t like when I …”)

• Avoid profanity, excuses, and overstatements, such as “always” and “never“. All-or-nothing statements make a person feel like they have no way out, and no chance at being restored

• Don’t talk about the past, just the situation at hand. Each situation deserves its own separate conversation.

• Hurt or harm is done in the details- so be specific.

• Find a quiet place, or in the least, indicate that you would like to have an intentional conversation by pulling the person to the side for some privacy- “Can I talk to you for a minute over here?” or “Let’s go outside for a sec, I want to tell you something.”

• Don’t expect immediate forgiveness, give the person time to heal.

Here are some sample apology starters:

1. I know I hurt you when I… and I’m sorry for that.

2. I’m sorry for… I can see that it hurt you.

Offering the question “will you forgive me?” is like a bonus that has the potential to soften the hurt person even further, because it shows that you are relinquishing power and pride and invites them to be an active part of the restoration of your relationship. If the person says, “no” or “I’m not yet ready,” it will be difficult not to feel rejected; however, forgiveness takes time. The questions below can be of help.

Good follow-up questions for further discussion and restoration of your relationship:

• What was it like for you when I…?

• How can I help?

• How can I make things better?

These questions keep the conversation going, and increase opportunities to understand the other person’s experience of having been hurt.

Crafting an effective and sincere apology takes courage, humility and a desire to make things right and change behavior. And as with any skill, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. If you would like to explore some of your personal barriers to giving and receiving sincere apologies, sitting down with a trusted therapist can be a safe place to do so.

Written by: Lily Scivicque