How to Apologize


Apologizing seems simple enough, but there’s more to it than merely saying “I’m sorry.” An apology is not only an expression of regret. It should also come with the sincere intention to correct one’s behavior.

When we apologize we should understand clearly what we’re apologizing for, otherwise our words will be empty of meaning. If we’ve behaved in a way that was disrespectful or inconsiderate, we should understand exactly why. We should have the intention, not only to resolve the situation, but also to prevent it from happening again. And this means we need to take time to reflect on our behavior, to take responsibility for it and to understand what is at the root of it so we can work to resolve it.

When we express repentance, we should offer an explanation of our wrongdoing, while taking full responsibility. This is very important, because we often have a tendency to shift the blame onto circumstances or other people, and even onto the person we’re apologizing to.

It may be that certain situations influenced our behavior in some way. It may even be that the other person has committed some wrongdoing as well. But our apology should be focused solely on our part in the situation. No matter what external circumstances may have influenced our behavior, our reaction to those circumstances is our own personal responsibility. So we shouldn’t make any excuses for our behavior. We should accept full responsibility. We need to make sure we understand this, and that the other person knows we understand it.

In addition we should resolve to behave differently in future and not to repeat the same mistake again. And we should let the other person know that we intend this.

A genuine apology is not merely words, but must be followed with action. Once we express our apology, the other may or may not accept it. They may need time to process their thoughts and emotions, to resolve their resentment against us, and to regain their sense of trust. And we should respect whatever time and space they need to do this. If they have anything to say in response we should listen intently and sensitively, without trying to defending ourselves. We should simply try to understand and acknowledge their perspective. If they have nothing to say, we should respect that also.

When we apologize we should not ask for forgiveness, nor should we expect it. Apologizing isn’t about clearing our name or making ourselves feel better. It’s about expressing sincere regret and trying to resolve the issue for the sake of the person we’ve offended. So our concern should be with them.

Once we’ve expressed everything we need to say, we shouldn’t go on apologizing. As I said, sometimes the other person needs time to process. So allow them that time. In the end there is no guarantee that they will forgive you. Once you’ve taken responsibility for your part it is now on them to take responsibility for theirs. That is, it’s their responsibility to work through their resentment and to find forgiveness. Whether they do so is entirely outside of your control. All you can do is have the integrity to follow through on your intentions.

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