When “I’m Sorry” Feels  like “Shut Up”




  How to Apologize When You Really Mean It.

A sincere apology goes a long way to correcting mistakes or oversights that damage our relationship with others – be they family, clients, customers or business associates. But apologies that are not sincere, tossed out or incomplete only makes matters worse.

There are five parts to a believable heartfelt, apology. In fact researchers have found a complete apology is much more effective at repairing trust than an apology that includes only one component, or some combination of three of the components. It seems if any part is missing, you risk leaving the person unsure if you’re really sorry or just want to get them off your back. They may end up feeling even worse about you.

If you do want to do what’s best for a relationship, here are five parts of a real apology,

Part 1: First take a good look at yourself.

Be honest. Do you want to apologize? Did you make a mistake, do something that is detrimental or inconsiderate to a relationship, be it personal or on the job? If you don’t own it, no matter what you say it will not be believable. It will likely be taken as a brush off to get you off the hook, feeling bad or quit complaining or badgering.

There are many reasons we don’t feel the need to apologize. We may have such thoughts as:

-. There is no need to rectify my behavior because I’m right. (Not to the other person.)
–  I didn’t do anything to apologize for. (Not to the other person.)
–  Whatever it was is “no big deal.” (Not to the other person.)
–  They are too sensitive, (Right or wrong, the other person doesn’t agree.)
–  Everyone does it. (The other person doesn’t care if others do it.)
–  They deserved it. (The other person doesn’t think so.)
–  It wasn’t my fault. (The other person doesn’t think so.)
–  It was just a joke. (It wasn’t funny to the other person.)
–  I already apologized a dozen times (Oops. Something must have been missing from
your one dozen apologies.)

If you really do not know what the other person considers you to have done to harm the relationship, of course, you can’t sincerely apologize. Seek to clarify. If the other person says “You should have known.” “If you don’t know, you’re hopeless.” Then you are both up a creek. Though you can say, “I’d really like to know because our relationship is important to me.”

Part 2: Express Remorse.

Once you’ve accepted what you did, every apology needs to start with two magic words: “I’m sorry,” or “I apologize.”

This step is so simple but for people who hate to admit they are wrong and can’t accept their imperfections, that’s a hard thing to do. Instead of apologizing, folks who feel this way may:

  • Give excuses, explain what they did and why.
  • Blame it on something or someone else (usually the other party).
  • Excuse what they did by saying “I did the best I could.“ (Clearly it wasn’t good enough.)
  • Substitute “I regret” in place of “I’m sorry.” It’s not the same thing. “I regret” signifies that you wish you hadn’t gotten caught, or hadn’t gotten in trouble for what you said. It makes everything about you instead of acknowledging what you did.
  • Use the passive voice, as “Mistakes were made.” There is a reason mistakes were made and even if others were involved you made them. It’s much better to own your actions and their consequences. (“I made mistakes, and as a result, people were hurt” — or whatever the case may be.) “I’m sorry.”

So you’ve owned up and said you’re sorry, but it’s not enough to stop there.

Step 3: Admit Responsibility.

Take full responsibility for your actions or behavior by clearly acknowledging what you did. “I …. (fill in the blank.” Don’t’ pussyfoot around it or diminish it with a  comment like “I sort of …” “I may have” or “I guess I …” Show that you understand what you did and understand the impact of what you did wrong. Don’t say “Sorry if what I said hurt your feelings,” say, “I’m sorry for what I did. I know it was inconsiderate and hurtful.”

Step 4: Make Amends.

When possible correct the mistake on the spot, i.e. doing incorrect work over, quickly doing the laundry you had promised to do, fixing the fence you broke, paying for damage done  or not charging someone for delays or errors you made. For less tangible faux pas, you might send  a card or flowers. You might do a special favor for the person or simply ask what you can do to make it right.

 Step 5: Promise That It Won’t Happen Again … if You Can.

If you can, state clearly what you intend to do differently in similar situations. Let them know you definitely won’t let this happen again. They can count on that.  But this part of an apology is often the biggest hang up in accepting an apology. If the person has heard or seen it before they’ll be skeptical. They will doubt it’s important enough to be sure you won’t repeat the same behavior.

You may have the best intentions when you apologize even when you’ve said it before. You probably meant it then too but how do you know that it will be different next time? How do you know you won’t do it again? Are you sure? 100% sure? What specifically will you do differently? Do you know how to do that? If in all truthfulness you can’t say this with absolute certainly, let the other person know you realize handling such things differently has been a problem for you but that you will do what you need to do to solve your problem.

Step 6: Figure Out What You Need to Do to Keep Your Promise.

Saying doesn’t make it so. Having good intentions is never enough on its own. Keeping your promise may require exploring what motivates you to do what you did. It may mean discovering what causes you to make these mistakes or act in this way. It could be a bad habit you do automatically. There may be knowledge or skills need to acquire to avoid certain mistakes. There  may be flaws in your thinking or beliefs. You may be overwhelmed by such situations or have problems focusing at such times. There may be triggers related to your past that cause you to forget your best intentions.

You may find you need help figuring out such things. You might need to ask others to cue or preempt you until you have a dependable new habit. Or you may need counseling to uncover what is causing you to keep making mistakes or do thoughtless, or hurtful things.

Of course it possible that someone might not accept your apology even when you have sincerely taken all the steps of a true apology. In that case you have done your part as best as you can to repair the relationship and hopefully the person will see their way to relating to you in the future when they see how you have changed.
OR you might not run into any of the problems mentioned here and by knowing the necessary parts of a sincere apologize, apologize fully and find your relationships repaired.

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