Whether your apology is about something small - like forgetting to pick up some milk, or high-stakes - like admitting to an affair, how you apologise is the difference between being forgiven or not. Take a look at this apology…
“ I’m sorry for being late but I got held up and the traffic was terrible.”
We have all said or heard this before. We meant it as an apology but the message the other person probably heard is, “ I didn’t take enough care to be on time for you - if I blame something else (my workload/traffic) you will be ok with it.”
What about this one…
“ I’m sorry I lied, but you always get so angry.”
The message here is that the other person is actually responsible for the lie. This is a deflection from the issue to transfer the blame, and not going to work as an apology.
Neither of these is an apology because no responsibility has actually been taken, therefore, it is likely to there will be no forgiveness.
We were taught as children to “Say sorry” and we have been able to brush things away ever since. As we got older, we found when we added in a reason or excuse, the blame could be shifted from us to some other person and the apology became simply an entry point to do that: “I’m sorry but…”
We want to take the easy way out when we have done something wrong. This habit can mean some people never learn how to truly apologise. They start out intending to apologise but let themselves off the hook by shifting the blame, then wonder why they haven’t been forgiven.
Here are 3 rules to follow when apologising:
2. Take out the “but…”Apologise, then stop. As soon as you utter the word “but…” you are making an excuse. If you need to explain the circumstances, it is better to start a new sentence by acknowledging facts that you didn’t take into account. For example, “I’m sorry I am late coming home. There was a lot of traffic and I can see I didn’t leave enough time.” This way you are still taking responsibility for your actions and recognise that you need to do things differently.
Which leads us to the next, and most important step…
3. Make it better.
When you acknowledge that you have made a mistake, apologised sincerely and taken responsibility, it is important to outline the way you can resolve the situation, or perhaps a way you will avoid doing that thing next time. Using the first example you might say “If that happens again, I will call you from work to let you know that I have been held back.” Then ask this person if that would be ok – check that you are forgiven.
Although we have used relatively common and ‘small’ apologies as examples, these 3 steps can be your guide when you have made a bigger mistake, even when there is a lot at stake.
Remember, when an apology is sincere, responsibility is taken and reparations are made, forgiveness is usually granted.
Keep these steps in mind and say “Sorry“ like you mean it!
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Vanessa Steele: counsellor, mum, partner, blogger... listening and learning every day.