How to Apologize

Posted April 8, 2014 by Katie Fleming in On the Ladder
Have you ever been on the receiving end of an apology, and then left the conversation feeling like nothing happened?  Perhaps you felt worse?  If so, chances are the other party did not know how (or was unwilling) to volunteer a true apology.

Apologizing is one of the most difficult things to do.  We either feel ashamed for hurting someone, feel confused about whether we partook in any wrongdoing, or we may even feel like an apology is completely unwarranted!

Whatever the case may be, it is emotionally challenging to take ownership of your words and/or actions, and sincerely apologize.  At the same time, for the sake of each and every relationship you’re in, it is a vital skill to master.

5 Steps to a True Apology:

  1. Initiate the conversation.  Ask the other party whether now is a good time to speak for a few moments.  If it isn’t, respect that.  Ask them when would be a better time, and kindly plan to speak then.  As a side note, remember to be in a calm, cool, and collected state of mind.  If you’re feeling moody or reactive, then wait until you’ve calmed down.
  2. Tell them what you are about to do.  “I would like to apologize for what I said earlier.”   
  3. Empathize.  “I understand how your feelings may have been hurt when I said that.”
  4. Express your regrets, and apologize.  “I regret saying those words, and I am truly sorry.”
  5. Stop!  At this point, as long as you were sincere (trust me, the other party will be able to tell otherwise!), you have apologized.  No need to carry on, and make any of these mistakes…

Avoid these common apology blunders!

  1. Defending your position.  Even if you felt like you were in the right, or that the whole situation was a miscommunication…leave it alone.  Say your apology, respect whatever their response is, and be done.  Apologizing doesn’t mean you agree with the other person – it is just about taking ownership over your part.
  2. Avoid this phrase at ALL costs:  “I’m sorry I did that, but blahblahblah.”  Trust me, the second you say “I’m sorry, but…”, the apology dies.  Remember – an apology is “I’m sorry…period.”
  3. Deflecting ownership.  “I’m sorry your feelings got hurt”, “I’m sorry that happened”.  Phrases such as these make it seem like you’re  refusing to admit that you had any part in wrongdoing.  Remember, when apologizing, you are sorry that you did something to hurt someone else.

About the Author

Katie Fleming

Katie earned her Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Northwestern University, and is currently a Crisis Therapist in Chicago. Her therapy interests include health and wellness, relationships, trauma, and crisis. Katie is also a therapist with a group practice in Arlington Heights. Katie is thrilled to be a part of Career Girl Network, helping to guide all Career Girls towards overall physical, emotional, and mental wellness. Katie is passionate about animal rescue, running, and yoga. She is the proud dog mom of Gulliver and Duke!