I think that we’ve all received apologies that just haven’t quite felt genuine. For sure, we’ve all seen politicians and celebrities on TV say how sorry they were, yet do it in such a way that nobody believes them. However, apologising is something that we all need to do many times during our lifetimes so it strikes me that we should know what we should and shouldn’t do in order to ensure that those we have done wrong by know that we sincerely regret it.
Things to Not Do
Don’t wait. The longer you take to show the other person that you’re sorry the more likely two things are likely to happen. Their resentment for your behaviour grows, and your regret of your behaviour grows. Neither of these things are conducive for good communication. The quicker you recognise to both yourself and the other that you are unhappy with your behaviour, the better for both of you.
Don’t give context. The other person will have their context of what happened before the incident, and is likely to be uninterested in yours. It is more likely that any context you give for your actions are going to come across as excuses. It may be that at some point in the future you’ll be able to talk more about the circumstances, but at the time you are apologising is not the time to explain yourself.
Don’t apologise for what other people thought. You’re not responsible for the thoughts of others, nor their feelings. Your apology is about you and your remorse for hurting another.
Things to Do
Identify the victim first. As much as your apology is about you, it is also about them. The need to apologise is the consequence of a cycle that you initiated by behaving in a manner that has distressed another. By explicitly recognising that you have had an impact on another, they are going to feel better about the situation – and you – immediately.
Express remorse and admit responsibility. I think these are the most important factors of an apology. Putting yourself in a vulnerable position is often a way to bring others emotionally closer to you. Be honest with yourself and with the part that you’ve wronged, show that you empathise with them, and above all be authentic about it.
Make restitution. Ask the other party what you can do to make up for your actions, and perhaps offer up some ways that you’re going to try to ensure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.
What Happens Next?
Don’t expect miracles. The more distress you’ve caused another, the less likely it is that your apology is going to to be received easily or accepted quickly. Hopefully the other person will thank you for your apology, and whether or not they do the best you can do is to be humble and give them the space they need to process what you’ve said and decide how they’re going to respond.