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5 Effective Ways to Apologize Better

Updated: Feb 14, 2021

Imagine this -- you unintentionally tell a friend or a relative something hurtful. Or maybe you’ve actually just experienced this unforeseen conversation. You realize that you’ve made a mistake and you feel very bad about the situation. You know that you need to apologize and make up for your mistake. The question is, how do you apologize?

We think that you might be put in this situation after Thanksgiving and before Christmas because holidays cause a tremendous amount of stress. This year is especially more challenging because everyone’s mental health has been significantly affected by the pandemic. In our previous blog, we wrote 5 different ways you can express your love effectively, depending on the person you’re communicating with. Now, we will share with you 5 different ways you can apologize effectively to show that you care about the person and that you didn’t mean what you’ve done. Avoiding miscommunication will help you salvage a lot of relationships and amend your wrongs.

But before we begin, why it’s important to apologize?

When done appropriately, apologizing improves the wellbeing of you AND the receiver.

1) You’re doing it for you:

Apologizing to others will liberate any qualms you may have. You will get a chance to resolve a relationship conflict that may be causing you a lot of guilt, regret, stress, and maybe even anger. When you maintain your good relationship with others and keep them healthy, you end up with lower stress levels and a more fulfilling life. In fact, you also are able to maintain your support system of friends and relatives who will be there for you in other challenging times.

2) You’re doing it for others:

Not only do you enable the people you wronged to remedy a good relationship, but you also give them a chance to forgive and make peace with whatever grudge they may have. In fact, a study from the Oxford's Annals of Behavioral Medicine in 2017 found that greater forgiveness correlates with less stress levels and better mental health. By giving them a better chance to forgive, you’re helping them become better people and feel better overall.

How do I Apologize?

Try the 5 Languages of Apology

Ever wondered why some apologies are effective with some people but are criticized by others? Gary Chapman wrote a great book called The Five Languages of Apology. In this book, he explains that people expect different ways of apology from others and that you need to know which way is more effective with whom in order to show that you truly feel sorry. Otherwise, your apology won’t be effective, and even worse, you may appear insincere. Don’t assume that others will take your apology the way you would do because people have different perspectives and expectations. Here are the 5 languages to help you navigate through your apology:

1) Express regret:

This apology language depends on you expressing your emotions and showing that you FEEL sorry. More importantly, you feel regret for hurting that person. Apologies from this language are most effective with people who say things like “do you know how deeply your mistake has hurt me?” and “do you have any idea how much pain you have caused me?”. To apologize effectively, you need to say something along the lines of “I feel awful because of the pain I have caused”, “I feel bad for letting you down” and “I am so sorry for making this mistake”. (Of course, these are general statements and your apologies will be more effective if you be more specific about why you are feeling regretful).

Using “I” statements will help express your genuine feeling of being sorry for what you have done. Anything other than expressing genuine emotions won’t be enough. For the people with this apology language, if you don’t have any regrets, you appear to be insincere.

2) Accept responsibility:

This apology language depends on you accepting responsibility for your actions and behaviors. Apologies from this language are most effective with people who say things to show that you need to admit that this was your fault and that the blame is on you. To apologize effectively, you need to start with something along the lines of “This was my fault”, “I have no excuse for what I did wrong”, and “I was wrong, and I have no one else to blame but myself”.

However, that’s not all. You need to say what you are taking responsibility for. You need to admit that you have said something insensitive or have done something wrong. Don’t just say that you were wrong without knowing what it was you’ve done. You also need to show that you take FULL responsibility for this mistake -- and the first step to full acceptance is understanding from their perspective what you’ve done wrong

3) Make restitution:

This apology language depends on you trying to make up for your mistake. Apologies from this language are most effective with people who say things to show that words mean very little for them and that they want to see you actionably trying to make things right. To apologize effectively, you need to do something instead of saying something. Whether it’s buying them dinner or helping with chores to cheer them up, or simply asking them what you can do to make up for your mistake, your actions will speak louder than words. Chances are, they have something in mind for you to do that would show that you truly are sorry.

To make things easier for you, your restitution can be similar to how they understand and express love (Love blog link). If they express love by receiving and giving gifts that show you think about them, that’s what you need to do. If their love expression is about how much attention they receive, do an activity with them where they can get your undivided attention for a significant amount of time.

4) Express your willingness to change your behavior:

Key tip: be genuine in your expression and follow through! This apology language depends on you trying to avoid repeating your mistakes. For them, what’s done is done. The question is, will you repeat your actions again or not? They expect something like “from now on, I will be more mindful about what comments I say” or a clear sign that you are going to at least try to change your behavior. No matter how many times you apologize, if you don’t show that you’ll try to change, your apology will be ineffective. Be sure to stick with your word and commit to your change.

5) Ask for forgiveness:

This apology language depends on you asking for forgiveness. For them, you need to understand that forgiveness isn’t guaranteed and that they’re in control. If you express your regret, make restitution, express your desire to change your behavior, and accept responsibility but then act as though forgiveness will be automatically granted, you’ll end up back to square 1 as if you haven’t even tried. They expect something as simple as “can you forgive me?” or just to show you understand that they are in control of the situation.

If you are the receiver of the apology:

If someone made a mistake and hurt your feelings, you deserve an apology. While it isn’t always easy, it’s important to understand that people apologize differently as shown in this blog. What you may see as insincere might be the only way others will accept an apology. It’s important to be flexible when it comes to accepting apologies by appreciating the languages you don’t use.

To avoid unnecessary miscommunication, you can always share with people how you want apologies to be like or which apology language is most effective for you. People sometimes guess incorrectly or may have no idea what the 5 languages of apology are (feel free to share with them this blog for sure).

Assess your situation

I would like to conclude by saying that some mistakes aren’t worth losing a relationship. Sometimes all you need is time. You are the only person who can evaluate the mistake, the relation, and the apology based on what you feel and know. If the mistake was too much for you, even if others are saying you’re overreacting, it’s okay to react accordingly.

Just ask yourself, “will I be still upset about this mistake after 2-3 years and would I be okay then with my decision of limiting this relation?”. If your answer is “no”, you may want to express these thoughts to the other person and then rebuild the relationship when you’re ready. And remember that it’s normal to face some obstacles in any relationship and that everyone mistakes.

By: Ragy Amin


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