Apologising: A How To Guide
30th June, 2010
Apologising is uncomfortable, at least if you are doing it right, but it is the pain of cleansing a deep wound so that it can heal properly. Here are a few suggestions on how to make a good apology:
Seven ways to apologise:
1. Avoid defensiveness. “I don’t have anything to apologise for!” Really? Think about it.
2. Be humble. You may even consider groveling if your transgression was extreme, like an affair. In that case, expect to grovel for a long time, but not forever.
3. Make it from the heart. Mean it! A mumbled, muttered, under-your-breath “I’m sorry…” isn’t going to cut the mustard.
4. With chocolates and flowers. Gifts may be used only to open the door after the apology has been accepted, as a thank you. Do not expect treats to substitute for sincerity. No, not even a diamond tennis bracelet.
5. Face to face is best. Maybe because it’s the hardest. A phone call comes in second. A hand written letter might work. Any form of writing needs to be carefully thought out when the advantage of voice and body language is absent. Email or direct message works for an apology, but only if there is seriously no other way. Be aware that privacy cannot be guaranteed. Texting an apology? You’ve got me there. Maybe for a fourteen year old? I’m not sure about this one, it may be a generational thing. I wouldn’t recommend it.
6. Stick to the issue at hand. Don’t apologise for all the sins of the past. That can smack of insincerity. If all the sins of the past is the issue, one apology won’t cover it. You probably need a mediator.
7. Say you’re sorry once. Genuinely said, with all the sincerity you can muster. Then let it go. Like a message in a bottle, send it off, be patient and hope it lands in receptive hands.
Receiving an apology isn’t easy either.
Accepting an apology is like accepting a compliment – best done with grace. I’m sure you’ve been in the position of having to apologise for some major mess up, mustering up the courage to do it is hard and no doubt once you’ve worked out what you want to say and how you want to say it you want it to mean something to the person you’re apologising to. Other times, you’re the wronged party and you’d like an apology…here’s what I appreciate from the person I’ve hurt:
1. Be direct with me. Please. There is nothing in this world worse than a cold shoulder, or finding out from someone else. “You should know what you did!” is a hopeless statement. For that reason directness is appreciated. Tell the person you are angry, why you’re angry and as soon as possible…not 3 or 4 months after the fact. Give them a clue and the opportunity to make amends. If you don’t, you allow resentment to build up and it really is a poison that slowly kills off relationships. You owe it to yourself to clear up upsets as soon as possible.
2. Don’t beat the other over the head. The opposite of being direct could be stewing or nagging endlessly. Once you’ve been direct, and assuming an apology is justified, wait for it patiently, it will come. If it never does, that’s a kind of answer too. What you do next can be informed by that.
3. Have an open heart. There are usually two or more ways to look at what happened. Hopefully, once the white heat of anger and hurt burns out a bit you can poke around and see if you had any part in the problem. Try seeing it from your transgressor’s point of view. Compassion doesn’t replace the apology, it does make it easier to hear.
4. Accept the apology when it’s sincerely given. You can tell the difference. If it wasn’t given honestly there was no apology, thus nothing to accept. I’m not in favour of flip phrases like, “Oh forget it”, “You don’t have to apologise”, “It was nothing.” It’s too easy to go there when everyone is clearly uncomfortable but when you do this, you undermine yourself and how hurt you felt. Remember, you’re always teaching people how to treat you, know that you deserve the apology, accept it with grace and move on. A simple “Thank you,” usually works best.
Giving and accepting an apology with grace is just that. It’s a blessed state for you both. For the one doing the apologising – because you chose to allow yourself to be vulnerable rather than get defensive. For the one who accepts the apology – because you used your power over a vulnerable soul with generosity of spirit instead of twisting the knife. Now the healing can begin.
What a relief!
But what about forgiveness? For most if us humans, forgiveness is another matter, involving trust, and that takes time to regenerate after a bad hurt.
Related articles from our experts
Virginia Sherborne MBACP (Accred.)May 4th, 2017
Jane Hughes (Reg MBACP)May 12th, 2017
Amanda Perl MSc Psychotherapist Counsellor MBPsS BACP (Accred) CBT PractitionerMay 16th, 2017
Andrea Harrn Psychotherapist and Author of The Mood CardsMay 13th, 2011
Imi Lo: Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, Supervisor (MMH,UKCP,HCPC,MBPsS)March 29th, 2015
Keeley Townsend BA (Hons), Ad.Dip.CP with Distinction, MNCS (Acc)December 14th, 2009
Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.