We all have to do it at some point in our lives, and yet so many of us struggle with it. It is not as simple as saying “I’m sorry”. We have to learn how to apologize effectively, and it takes practice. There’s more to an apology than just words; you need to back it up with actions and show genuine interest in fixing the problem. Saying ‘sorry’ is the first step in healing a relationship. It can be hard at times, especially if you feel as if you are not at fault, but when said with sincerity, it indicates a few important things:
- You are acknowledging that there is/was a wrongdoing between the two parties.
- You are showing that you care about the other person and their wellbeing.
- You are taking steps to resolve any conflict that may have arisen
In a paper published in 2016 researchers found that there were certain elements that made an apology more effective. The more of these elements that were included the more effective the apology proved to be.
5 elements of an effective apology:
1. Expression of regret. You need to be sincere and mean what you say. You need to let the other person know that you regret what has happened and want to make a change in order to fix it. Consider that you have disrupted someone’s emotional balance through your actions. Therefore, the goal of an apology is to restore, or help to ease, a person’s emotional balance.
2. Explanation of what went wrong. Explain what went wrong DO NOT explain why it went wrong. Trying to justify your behaviour or offer excuses removes the sincerity from the apology, and sounds like you are trying to shift the blame. It can cause more harm than good, so don’t do it. Even if you are not sure of what went wrong starting an apology can open up a dialogue allowing you to gain an understanding of why the other party is upset.
3. Acknowledgement of responsibility. It is hard to do, but it is very important. Admit that you have done something wrong and have hurt the other party’s feelings. Take responsibility for your actions. This helps rebuild trust and starts the healing process. We are all human and make mistakes time to time. It is also important for your wellbeing not to bury yourself in negative emotions such as guilt.
4. Declaration of repentance. This links in with the other elements and the overall theme of an apology. Be genuine with your words. Show that you are truly sorry for hurting them. If you don’t mean what you say then your apology will be dishonest and will not help the situation.
5. An offer of repair. Tell them what you aim to do to avoid causing them hurt again and then DO IT. Actions speak louder than words. An effective apology needs to be supported with a change in behaviour. This step combined with step 1 are the two most important elements of an apology.
Often arguments are focused on trying to get your point across without actually listening to the other person. Take the time to understand where they are coming from and be clear in your message as well. Apologising is the first step to recovery, it needs to be supported by actions. It can be difficult but having a conversation as to what caused the problem can enable it to be prevented in the first place. You need to want to make amends and be genuine in your approach.
- It is better to address the problem early than let it grow into something bigger than it should be. The longer you wait, the longer the conflict lasts.
- Focus on the person’s needs and feelings. An apology is for them, not you.
- Do not ask for forgiveness. It is up to the other person to accept an apology. Forgiveness can take time, and they may not be ready to forgive you straight away. Asking for forgiveness and not getting it right away can cause you harm as well.
- Apologising can be hard and may require you to let go. The easiest way to do this is to ask yourself “What is more valuable? The idea of being right, or the relationship?”