How to Apologize

Know When and How to Say You Are Sorry

Upset small schoolgirl having trustful conversation with mother.
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Have you ever felt bad about something you've said or done and caused someone to be upset or hurt? Have you ever made a mistake that needs to be rectified with an apology?

You don't get a do-over, but most of the time you can apologize and at least try to make amends in some way. Whether you verbalize your apology or send an apology letter, there are some important things to consider and steps to take.

Difficulty of Apologizing

One of the most difficult things for many of us to do is admit that we made a mistake and apologize. Although it only takes a few seconds to say the words, "I'm sorry," or "I made a mistake," we are often reluctant to do so.

It could be pride or ego that makes us feel that if we say we're sorry for something we're showing weakness. However, just the opposite is true. It takes a very strong person to admit that you are wrong or that you made a mistake. Proper etiquette doesn't require perfection. It's more about the refinement of your character. A sincere apology shows grace and good manners.

That said, you still might have a difficult time letting the other person know that you feel bad about your actions or what you said. Just remember that once you've apologized, and the other person has accepted it, you can move on and stop worrying about whatever it was. It's cleansing and the right thing to do.

Best Time to Apologize

There are times when you might have known right away that you said or did something wrong. When this happens, immediately stop, apologize, and change course. Avoid digging yourself deeper by groveling or trying to justify anything. Sometimes there is no valid reason for our words or actions, so don't make matters worse by trying to do the impossible.

Apology Process

  • Admit to yourself that you were wrong. This is often the hardest step in the process, so work on that before you move on. If you said something incorrect or that could be perceived as gossip, think about what you should have said or left unsaid. If you did something wrong, you probably knew right away.
  • Admit your mistake to the other person. Once you know what you should have done or said, you can tell the person that you were wrong and wish you could have a do-over. Then state what should have happened.
  • Say you are sorry. In a matter-of-fact way, apologize with a simple, "I'm sorry. I won't do it again," and mean it. Most people will accept an apology once, but if you don't mean it, your words will come across insincere, you'll probably make the same mistake, and the other person may never trust you again.
  • Don't make excuses. If you have an excuse for your actions or words, your apology will come across as insincere. Trying to do this shows that you still don't feel that you were in the wrong.
  • Smooth over the situation with kind words. If your mistake was to say something mean or hurtful, let the other person know that you didn't mean it the way it came out. Then offer some kind words of encouragement to show that you value their friendship. For example, you might be apologizing for a rude comment you made about their children. After you apologize, you can say something like, "I've always thought that your children were bright." Just make sure you think about what to say before you speak and that it's appropriate to the situation.
  • Replace broken or stolen items. If you are apologizing for something you broke or took from someone, replace it immediately with the exact same thing. If you can't locate whatever it was, find something with a value at least as high as the original item.
  • Don't push or expect too much too soon. It may take some time for the other person to trust you again. This is normal. Give them the time they need and ask them to call you when ready to talk about it. You can also follow up in a letter. They may have a better feeling about you after reading and digesting your well thought out words.
  • It's been a long time. Even if your apology is long overdue, you can still call or write a letter to the person and say you're sorry. Maybe enough time will have passed that you can forget your hard feelings and move on. If not, perhaps you can try again. If the person still doesn't want to accept your apology use it as a painful lesson for the future.

After Apologizing

After the apology, sincerely try to avoid making the same mistake again. And whatever you do, don't keep bringing it up or repeating your apology over and over. That will make the other person uncomfortable. It's time to move on.