Recently, writer and editor Jennifer King Lindley approached me for tips on avoiding apology pitfalls. Please check out her finished piece in the May issue of Real Simple Magazine, available in stores now.
Here are the highlights:
How to apologize (and seem like you mean it).
It’s hard to say “I’m Sorry.” And it’s especially hard to do it well. (Sorry to say, most of us are lousy at it.) Apologizing takes humility, courage, and good timing. Here’s how you- and your kids- can master a sincere mea culpa.
Strategies for Success. For minor infractions, like being 10 minutes late for a coffee date with a friend, a rueful “I’m so sorry—traffic was nuts!” will do it. Experts agree that the apologies most likely to be accepted by the other person include some key elements, outlined here.
Make it timely. In general, you want to apologize as soon as possible after an incident. A delay can mean insincerity.
Express regret. It’s basic but crucial: State how much you regret what you did. Otherwise you come across as only trying to justify your bad behavior. Jennifer Thomas, Ph.D., a psychologist in North Carolina and a coauthor of When Sorry Isn’t Enough, favors opening with the phrase “I apologize” instead of “Sorry.” “Sorry is a very vanilla word—we use it every time we bump into someone’s cart in the supermarket,” she says. Then focus on the other person, not on how bad you feel: “I apologize that I snapped at you during our meeting this morning. I was totally out of line. I can understand why you would be upset about how I acted.”
Take responsibility. Be specific so the victim knows you are aware of exactly how you have wronged him and doesn’t think you are just trying to sweep things aside with an off-the-rack nicety.
Listen. Apologies are not meant to be monologues.
Make amends. If you missed your daughter’s recital, offer to watch her perform in the living room. Another apology expert, Lauren Bloom, is not a fan of sending flowers. “It can come off as a bribe,” she says.
Walk the walk. You don’t have to keep apologizing over and over for the same transgression. If the person doesn’t accept it the first time, let the matter cool for a while, then try once more, says Lauren Bloom. Some distance can allow a friend to put your offense in perspective. If you still note a lingering frost, even after she said that all’s well, it’s OK to ask, “Is there more I can do to make it up to you?”
Sorry, But You’re Apologizing All Wrong
Mistakes often made when expressing remorse.
1. Apologizing by Text or E-mail
As a rule, in-person apologies are most effective. The other person can hear your tone of voice and read your body language—no crossed arms!—as proof of your sincerity. Plus, you have the chance to listen to her side. It’s fine to send a text that says, “Mea Culpa! May I take you out for a coffee and apologize?” Exception: if the person won’t see you or if you want to write it down in a letter so you don’t forget anything. (In that case, consider reading it out loud to her rather than mailing it.)
2. Making Excuses (to Justify Your Mistake)
Avoid peppering your apology with “but’s” that prevent you from taking responsibility: “I’m sorry I blew up, but you really struck a nerve when you criticized my parenting.”
3. Apologizing When You
Don’t Really Mean It
A false apology benefits no one, says Lauren Bloom, an interfaith minister, an attorney, and the author of The Art of the Apology. If you told your brother that his wife is a meddling know-it-all, don’t apologize if you can’t do it sincerely (that is, his wife really is a meddling know-it-all, and you haven’t changed your mind). Rather, apologize for the piece of conflict that you do regret. Say to him, “I’m so sorry I said that to you. I love you, and I was way out of line telling you that about Lisa.”
4. Saying “I’m Sorry You Feel That Way”
Translation: You are way too sensitive. You are just shifting the blame away from you and onto the victim.
5. Expecting an Instant Fix
It may take the other person time to process her feelings, so don’t end with “I’m glad this is behind us” or “Now we can make the past the past,” says Jennifer Thomas, Ph.D., a psychologist in North Carolina and a coauthor of When Sorry Isn’t Enough.
Read the whole article here.