7 tips for saying you're sorry the right way

November 3, 2015

No matter what you've done, there are right and wrong ways to apologize. Here are seven tips for saying you're sorry the right way, ranging from taking full responsibility to apologizing as soon as you can.

7 tips for saying you're sorry the right way

1. Take full responsibility

Situations are rarely entirely one person's fault and taking full responsibility does not mean accepting the blame for everything. Rather, it means taking full responsibility for your role in an issue and your actions.

  • To do this, succinctly explain what you did so you can convey your awareness to the other person. For instance, you could say, "I apologize for yelling at you last night. It was wrong."

2. Offer a proactive solution so the behaviour won't happen again

When you suggest a solution, you show that you take your behaviour seriously, you know it needs to be corrected, and you are taking steps to do so. Your apology then becomes more meaningful.

  •  One such approach is, "In the future, I am going to count to 10 before I react to anything that upsets me. I hope that will prevent any yelling."

3. Apologize only if you are truly sorry and feel remorse

Sure, you could apologize even if you don't mean it, but the other person will probably see your insincerity.

  • Save yourselves the trouble and just bypass the apology until you truly mean it. A genuine apology carries much more weight than one that is shallow.

4. Apologize in proportion to the offence

Not every misdeed requires an apology, and not every apology needs to have a proactive solution. Use your judgement.

  • Sometimes our emotions can sway how we perceive events. If you're uncertain whether an apology is expected from the other person, ask him or her – it's what grown-ups do – rather than hold a grudge.

5. Apologize in person if possible

If saying you're sorry in person cannot happen, try video chat or a phone call. In some cases, if you absolutely cannot reach that person after several genuine attempts to call him or her, a letter or text message may be the best solution.

  • Don't let your apology slide and get forgotten. It may only make matters worse.

6. Let your words and body language convey your sincerity

Do not let inanimate objects such as flowers serve as an apology – even if they come with a card saying: "I'm sorry I yelled at you last night."

  • You can make such gestures, certainly, but sincere words come first. Always.
  • In fact, flowers may detract from your message and make it seem as if you are trying to buy your way back into a person's good graces.

7. Apologize as soon as you can

It goes without saying: the longer you wait to apologize, the longer a problem will drag on –  even if it appears to have been resolved on the surface.

And although it's still a good idea not to offer an insincere "I'm sorry" if you don't feel as though you've done anything wrong, the moment it hits you that you were at fault, don't delay offering a heartfelt apology.

Just remember that even if you apologize properly, your apology may not always be accepted. For instance, you may have pushed someone's buttons once too often knowing what the outcome would be. Sometimes, you just need to focus on yourself and become a better person to convey how truly sorry you really are.

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