Being human it’s inevitable that at some point we’re going to screw up. The corollary to screwing up is that we’re going to find it wise to apologize for our misdeeds, intentional or otherwise. This is typically a miserable and uncomfortable experience, although there are certainly times when an apology feels so good we wonder why it wasn’t done sooner.
For general areas and circumstances when an apology is in order, here is a following list of DO’s and DON’T’s.
DON’T – make it public. Keep it private, for your pride and theirs. Most people don’t want to receive a public apology and most people don’t want to see one.
DO – Choose a peaceful location. Privacy may be assured when alone in a car driving somewhere, but attention and temper are not as certain.
DO – Choose a peaceful time. Let them have some mental calm before you come in. Surprisingly, receiving an apology can be just as emotionally disruptive as giving one. Coming when they’re in a more peaceful or friendly mood makes things easier for everyone.
DON’T – Offer excuses. The point is to admit you made a mistake, not blame someone else.
DON’T – Bring other people into it if possible. This is not about them. This is about you and the person(s) you’re apologizing to.
DO – State exactly what you did wrong. Keep it short and simple, and say something along the lines of “I’m sorry. I apologize. I was wrong.” Be honest. Be direct.
DO – Show some emotion. This doesn’t necessarily mean turning red, crying or anything along those lines. It simply means show them that this is taking a bit of effort for you. An apology that comes easily, that slips right out, doesn’t seem as sincere as one that obviously takes effort and intention. As an example, think about the number of times you say ‘Sorry’ in a day – to people you bump into on the bus, during work, who just got blown off because you’re in a hurry. You’re not actually sorry; you’re being polite. A real sorry takes real effort.
DO – Acknowledge their hurt. If it didn’t mean anything to them an apology would not be necessary. An apology is more than an admission of wrong and asking for forgiveness; it’s letting them know that you realize the pain you gave them. It’s acknowledging that you hurt them and regret it. “I’m sorry that I scared you by coming in so late past curfew.” “I’m sorry that I betrayed your trust by lying to you.” Etc.
Helpful ways to Apologize
Some people believe that the only way to apologize is in person. This is not always practical, although it does do the best job of conveying sincerity. Sometimes distance interferes. Other times they refuse to see you. Sometimes it can be just too hard emotionally to seek them out.
Telephoned apologies are not much substitute for being in-person, but they can help. It can be harder to let them know your sincerity but it can be easier to talk since they are not actually in front of you.
Written apologies are also good. It shows that you cared enough to take the time to sit and write something out. Email is rather distancing, so other recommendations include hand-writing a note or a short letter on a piece of paper. Delievery doesn’t matter so much, unless there’s a special way that your person would appreciate. The point is that taking the time to write something shows them you were willing to sacrifice your time and to put thought and effort into the apology.
Sometimes it’s the thought and the effort that mean the most, more than the words themselves. The words are an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and seeking to right it, but it’s the thought and effort that show you still CARE enough to want to put things right.