The five steps of a sincere apologyOctober 12, 2022 2022-10-12 9:06
The five steps of a sincere apology
How can one recognize and offer a sincere apology?
Have you ever found yourself in a situation when you inadvertently hurt or wronged somebody? Or, have you ever been on the receiving end of wrongdoing? In either case, a sincere apology is in order.
What is a sincere apology and when is it necessary?
Not all apologies are sincere. Some are just part of social convention and are only good for keeping up appearances. Such apologies are necessary in professional settings or even in social ones if relationships are superficial.
Nevertheless, when it comes to interpersonal relationships with people we hold dear, only sincere apologies can truly mend the situation.
For an apology to be classified as sincere, it needs to communicate genuine empathy, remorse, and regret as well as a promise to learn from one’s mistakes and rectify the situation.
If you are either seeking the best way to apologize and make amends or to find out if the apology offered to you is sincere, here are the 5 steps that can serve as your guide:
Step 1: Directly state what you want to apologize for
Whether you yourself realized you hurt someone or this someone came to you to let you know how they feel because of your actions, be clear about the action you want to apologize for. Don’t beat about the bush. Own up to it without deflecting. Don’t even try to defend yourself and find excuses why you did it. It will only make matters worse especially if you are using the excuses to save face.
This does not mean being callous about it. I understand that it is embarrassing to talk about things that we are ashamed of but it is absolutely necessary for a sincere apology. If we try to justify our action, we make it about ourselves and we miss the point. As a result, the “offended” person will not feel heard or respected.
Here’s an example:
“I’m really sorry for snapping at you last night when you asked me what I wanted for dinner. I understand that it came out of nowhere and I am truly sorry.”
Step 2: Acknowledge the impact of your action
Acknowledging the impact of our action is pivotal after the first step. This is how we show our empathy and our regret. We need to help the person understand we that fully get the repercussions of our action. What is more, we hope they comprehend that it pains us to have caused them harm.
During this step, don’t be afraid to share with them what you imagine they must have felt. This is the time for us to be vulnerable and show our feelings. What would be even better would be to admit the ulterior motive or the emotional state behind our action.
What I’m saying might look like this:
“I imagine that you must have felt awful and shocked having me snap at you like that for no obvious reason. I am truly sorry. I have been under a lot of stress at work but there is no excuse for me to treat you like that. Not even if you had done something to provoke me. What I did was inexcusable and it will never happen again.”
Which takes us to step 3.
Step 3: Explain how you will rectify the situation
Saying that something will never happen again is of no value if you we don’t state what we will do differently next time or how we will manage to do it differently next time.
As I have explained in my blog on emotional triggers, a seemingly inoffensive situation or remark can provoke an intense negative reaction which might seem disproportionate to the situation at hand. If we don’t have self-awareness and if we don’t work on ourselves, we will continue to be the puppets of involuntary reactions stemming from our traumas.
Therefore, an apology cannot be sincere unless we explain how we will manage to avoid such behaviors or actions in the future. Of course we need to mean it and truly want to heal so we could say something to the effect:
“I’m going to be more aware of my triggers and I will work on them. I will try to figure out why I behave like this and I will make sure you are not the recipient of my rage. Next time I feel stressed from work, I might not come home right away. I might go for a walk to clear my head and I will let you know of it. Alternatively, the minute I come home, I will tell you how I feel and I will ask you for some me time so as to decompress before any interaction with you. “
Step 4: Ask whether they want to talk about it
The next thing you should do is ask the person whether they want to talk about it. If they do, make sure you actively listen to their perspective without interrupting them. You will most probably feel very uncomfortable but try to remain calm and refrain from trying to defend yourself or deny their perspective.
Let them talk freely and express themselves fully however bad this might make you feel. As a matter of fact, your apology is about them and making them feel better, right? If you are only apologizing so you can feel better about yourself, the apology is not sincere. As a result the “offended” person will not feel better and you will not have healed the relationship.
Step 5: Request what else you can do to make things better
After having listened to the offended person with no personal agenda, ask them what else they need you to do so as to feel better. Show them that you are ready and willing to be there for them with palpable actions and not just words. Be prepared to hold them, proclaim your love for them, give them space (even if this might feel like a rejection for you), or grant any wish which is within your reach.
They might not know what to say in the moment. Maybe they will feel overwhelmed and need time to reflect. Give them the time they need and let them know that you will be available whenever they think of something. Prove to them that you are for real.
Despite the very popular saying, time alone does NOT heal all wounds. The memory might fade but healing does not take place spontaneously and automatically as we would all like to believe.
So, if a sincere apology is what you need to heal yourself or others, ask for it or offer it respectively. A hush-hush attitude never helped anyone…