If you’ve been stuck at home with one or more family members mostly for the past year, you’ve likely gotten on your nerves on occasion. When you are under a lot of stress, it is not uncommon to say something unkind or even to piss off someone who is close to your heart. And we all make thoughtless mistakes from time to time, like forgetting a promise or breaking something.
Not sure whether to apologize?
Even if you don’t believe what you said or did was that bad, or believe that the other person is actually wrong, it is still important to apologize when you hurt or upset someone. “In order to maintain or re-establish connections with other people, one must let go of concerns about right and wrong and instead try to understand the other person’s experience,” says Dr. Ronald Siegel, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School. This ability is one of the cornerstones of the emotional intelligence that underlies healthy, productive relationships of all kinds.
How to really apologize
For an apology to be effective, it must be real. A successful apology confirms that the other person was offended and acknowledges responsibility (you accept that your actions caused the other person pain). They want to convey that you really feel sorry for and care for the person who has been injured and you promise to make amends by taking steps to avoid mishaps similar to the examples below.
According to the late psychiatrist Dr. Aaron Lazare, an apology expert and former Chancellor and Dean of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has four elements to a good apology:
- Acknowledge the offense. Take responsibility for the crime, whether it is physical or psychological damage, and affirm that your behavior was unacceptable. Avoid using vague or evasive language, or formulating an apology in a way that minimizes the crime or poses questions about whether the victim was really injured.
- Explain what happened. The challenge is to explain how the crime took place without apologizing. In fact, sometimes the best strategy is to say that there is no excuse.
- Express repentance. When you regret the mistake, or feel ashamed or humiliated, say this: These are all part of expressing genuine repentance.
- Offer to make amends. For example, if you’ve damaged someone’s property, have it repaired or replaced. If the crime has hurt someone’s feelings, acknowledge the pain and promise to be more sensitive in the future.
I apologize from the bottom of my heart
The words you choose to apologize count. Here are some examples of good and bad excuses.
|EFFECTIVE WORDING||WHY IT WORKS|
|“I’m sorry that I lost my temper last night. I’ve been under a lot of pressure at work, but that’s not an excuse for my behavior. I love you and will try harder not to take my frustrations upon you. “||Taking responsibility, explaining but not apologizing why the mistake happened, expressing remorse and caring, and promising redress.|
|“I forgot. I apologize for this mistake. It shouldn’t have happened. What can I do to avoid this problem in the future?”||Takes responsibility, describes the bug, makes the person feel cared for, and starts a conversation about how to fix the bug.|
|INEFFECTIVE WORDING||WHY IT DOESN’T WORK|
|“I apologize for everything that happened.”||The language is vague; Offense is not specified.|
|“Mistakes were made.”||Using passive language avoids taking responsibility.|
|“Okay, I apologize. I didn’t know this was such a sensitive subject for you. “||Sounds reluctant, blames the offended person back (for “sensitivity”).|