An effective apology should make you and the other person feel better. Use these 5 steps for how to apologize (plus examples), in order to build an apology that covers your emotional bases.
Let the other person know you wish this hadn’t happened, that you know they’re hurting, and that seeing them in pain makes you feel regret. Acknowledge that the situation is bad and that’s not up for debate.
Maybe you need a more subtle version of the above? Try:
Notice all of these statements mention something concrete about how the situation feels to the other person.
Show you understand exactly what was upsetting and how they see the series of events that brought you here. Validate their perspective, while making sure to mention your role in their perspective. Try to include acknowledgement that you caused the negative emotion they currently feel–even if you didn’t intend to.
A key part of nailing this point is avoiding the dreaded “if.” Good apologies do not include “if,” because it instantly invalidates the other person’s perspective. Use the swaps below for guidance:
Part of effectively apologizing is letting the other person know that you aren’t disputing their negative feeling or why they feel that way. If a person trusts that you understand their perspective, they can more easily trust that this won’t happen again.
In addition to expressing regret (that you feel bad for what happened), express that you feel so bad about this, that you feel driven to keep it from happening again. If you could do it over, you would – and in future situations, you will act differently.
Bonus points if you can say specifically how you will prevent this from happening again.
Suggest something you could do to make the situation better for the person you hurt. This could include running an errand you made them miss, taking on some chores so they can de-stress, or replacing something of theirs you broke. Anything to either directly repair your mis-step, or to compensate for it.
Not sure how you can make it better? Avoid saying something like “Let me know how I can make it better.” That can make it seem like you haven’t given the matter serious thought (even if you are simply stumped). Instead, try something like:
Instead of “I hope that you can forgive me,” shift the burden back from them to yourself.
According to research, this is the least important part of a proper apology. This part can be more self-serving than the rest, because an effective apology keeps the focus on what the other person is experiencing, rather than your discomfort. Our view is: do all you can to make things better for the other person, and the forgiveness will probably come without you asking for it.
If you’d like to remember it all more easily, you can take the phrase “IM SORRY” and make it into a DBT-style pneumonic device, as Dr. Jeff Cohen on Twitter suggests: