Apologies are tough. Really tough.
It’s hard to look another person in the face and say you did wrong. You’re effectively admitting you hurt them — which can make you feel, rightly or wrongly, like a bad person. 😣
The truth is that we all mess up. We all need to hear “sorry” from time to time. And, if our default response is defensiveness, we can apologize better.
Take these four expert tips as a place to start. 🏁
Explore what upset the other person.
While most people approach apologies defensively, you should instead tackle them with curiosity.
That’s according to clinical psychologist Harriet Lerner, whose 2017 book, Why Won’t You Apologize?, explores why apologies are something we all struggle with.
Being curious means asking thoughtful questions 🤔 to investigate what went wrong. Over and above soothing hurt feelings, this will ultimately help you deepen your relationship, Lerner argues.
“The apology is what lowers the intensity and creates an emotional climate in which a further conversation can occur,” she tells NPR.
An apology, in other words, is really an invitation to strengthen your bond. 🤝
After listening, be heard (taking responsibility).
Owning your mistakes is a big part of delivering an authentic apology.
In a 2016 study that examined how people react to different kinds of apologies, the most impactful was shown to be a simple acknowledgment of wrongdoing. 👏
“Our findings showed that the most important component is an acknowledgment of responsibility,” study author Robert Lewicki observed. “Say it is your fault, that you made a mistake.”
Owning up to a mistake takes humility — which can be a tough pill to swallow. To head off the bad feelings that accompany an admission of wrongdoing, try not to see the situation as a concession. Instead, take it as a chance to do better.
Don’t dilute your ‘sorrys’.
Apologizing works best, business school professor Maurice Schweitzer tells CNBC, when it addresses interpersonal conflict.
Apologies can “transform people from being in a state of conflict to moving to cooperation,” he says.
But for simple mistakes, like a missed deadline at work, an apology might not be what’s called for. 🙅 Schweitzer suggests you own these kinds of problems without using the word “sorry.”
Avoiding unnecessary “sorrys” makes you look more assertive. It also increases the impact when you do apologize. One example is saying “thanks for your patience” instead of “sorry for being late.” Rather than call attention to your lateness, you put the focus on the other person 👉 by acknowledging their kindness.
Aim to repair the situation.
Whether it’s a workplace misstep or a bigger interpersonal conflict, you can close the loop by suggesting how you’ll right the ship.
In that 2016 study pointing to the importance of admitting responsibility, the No. 2 most impactful way to apologize is describing what you’ll do differently in the future. 📝
“By saying, ‘I’ll fix what is wrong,’ you’re committing to take action to undo the damage,” study author Lewicki says.
Other apology experts echo those findings. Defense attorney Jahan Kalantar suggests in a TED Talk that the best way to close out an apology is with an “and” — some variation of “and next time, I’ll do things differently.”
This “and” signals to the other person that you understand what you did wrong and are committed to repairing the relationship. It’s the best alternative to defensiveness: putting you on a firm foundation moving forward. ➡️
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.