As much as we might not like to admit it, we all make mistakes. When that happens, we need to show accountability by making an apology. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of apology is “an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.”
The act of apologizing shows we’re accepting responsibility for our actions. It also demonstrates we value the relationship with the other person. That’s why sometimes we might choose to apologize even when we don’t believe we’ve done anything wrong — because we’re taking responsibility for the situation.
In crafting an apology, there are five steps to consider. If you’re anxious about making the apology, consider using these these steps as a guide to write out your apology and practice it.
1. Be timely. The longer the discomfort exists, the harder it’ll be to move forward. Apologize as soon as possible after the incident. No one wants to hear, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings last month.”
2. Do it in person. In today’s technology driven society, it might feel more comfortable to simply zip off an email apology. Resist the urge. A huge factor in the sincerity of an apology is hearing the tone of someone’s voice. Ideally, have the conversation in person. If not, pick up the phone.
3. Empathize. Think for a moment about how you’d feel if you were in the other person’s position. Even if you don’t think you’d be offended or hurt by the comment or action, think about how you feel when someone does hurt or offend you. A sincere apology is grounded in empathy.
4. Don’t focus on making excuses or providing explanations. It’s very tempting to use an apology as a means to explain our actions. That’s not the purpose. An apology isn’t about us. It’s about showing remorse or regret for the way we made someone else feel.
5. Find out how you can make the situation right. Honestly, it’s possible the answer is “nothing” but it’s important to let the other person know you’re prepared to fix the damage that’s been done.
6. Make a commitment. Let the other person know you’re committed to not making the same mistakes twice. You can’t go back and change the past. Tell the other person you’re going to focus on not doing the same thing again.
One more thing: After you apologize, don’t expect immediate forgiveness. Depending on the situation, it’s possible the other person will need time to process the apology. Give him or her that time. You’ve done what you needed to do.
While it’s possible for some people an apology won’t be enough, you control your actions. You’ve made your commitment to the person (Step #6) and now you can demonstrate with your actions you’re moving forward.
There’s no doubt apologies are hard. None of us like admitting our mistakes. But by focusing on the other person’s feelings and a commitment to corrective action, we can move past it.