Apologizing isn't something that comes naturally to most of us. For whatever reason, our knee-jerk reaction when someone's unhappy with us tends to be to defend ourselves. That's why we need to consciously learn how to apologize. And once we can learn that, people will greatly appreciate it, because it's not a skill most people have.
"Believe it or not, it can be incredibly empowering to take responsibility, to own your mistakes," registered clinical counsellor Hillary McBride, author of Mothers, Daughters, and Body Image: Learning to Love Ourselves as We Are, tells Bustle. "It can make you feel competent, mature, and secure."
But that doesn't make it easy. An apology is about much more than saying "I'm sorry." It's also about articulating what you're sorry for, understanding how it made the other person feel, and making sure you make up for the mistake and don't repeat it. According to a 2016 Ohio State University study, an effective apology actually has six parts: expressing regret, explaining what went wrong, taking responsibility, declaring repentance, offering to make it up to them, and asking for forgiveness.
Here are some ways to not just stop telling bad apologies but actually tell really good ones.
Before opening your mouth, take in what the other person's saying. Try to understand what exactly you did that bothered them and how it made them feel. "The apology means nothing if you haven't listened to what the other person said," says McBride. "It's OK to pause, to consider how that impacted them and what it might be like if you were in their shoes. Think for a second about what it would be like if you experienced what they experienced."
It might seem obvious, but a lot of people skip this step and merely imply "sorry" by saying things like "I understand" or "I won't do it again." These can come off like a cop-out. You need to actually say the words to convey that you're sorry, therapist and friendship researcher Miriam Kirmayer tells Bustle.
3State What You're Apologizing For
A vague "sorry" or "sorry for hurting you" conveys the message that you want to patch things up but doesn't show any understanding of what you've done or give any indication that you'll try to do better. "It is important to be specific about what the offense was and how it was hurtful," Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Jim Seibold tells Bustle. "The message this sends is 'I get it,' and [it] also helps to communicate that it is less likely to happen again."
4Don't Explain Your Actions
Phrases like "I was trying to help" or "I didn't mean to say that" don't go over well during apologies. "When someone is offering an explanation for their actions, it may be well-intended, but it tends to be perceived as an excuse," says Seibold. "These discussions need to be separate conversations. In fact, it may be important to provide an explanation for behavior in order to problem-solve and increase understanding. The apology, however, needs to stand alone."
5Don't Say "But"
Another turn of phrase that tends to detract from an apology is "but." Actually, a "but" clause will detract from pretty much anything you're saying. "It's just that" will have the same effect, says Kirmayer. "These kinds of add-ons often come across as justifications for why you did whatever you are apologizing for."
6Tell Them You'll Make It Up To Them
"As powerful as a genuine apology can be, what really matters is how things progress going forward," says Kirmayer. "That’s why offering to make reparations is a really important way of showing your remorse and commitment to change." You can even ask them how you can make it up to them or do better in the future.
7Come Up With A Plan
Instead of just saying you'll do better in the future, which is easier said than done, figure out what steps you'll take to ensure that happens. For example, instead of simply saying you'll stop being late, decide that from now on, you'll set alarms to remind you to leave on time. This not only reassures the other person that things will get better but also shows you're committed to making a change, says Seibold.
8Keep Checking In About It
Things won't automatically get better just because you've apologized, especially if what you did caused a lot of hurt. So, Seibold recommends continuing to talk about the issue (if the other person wants to) to see how you're doing making it up to them and how you could do better.
Doing these things will probably require you to swallow your pride, but they'll also create interactions you can take pride in.