How to Apologize (Asking for Forgiveness Gracefully)
It is common to hear someone say “No-one is perfect.” That is very true, otherwise we wouldn’t be having the problems we have in this world.
This statement is usually used to explain the reason why 100% should not be expected from anyone.
As OK as this is, it should never be used to justify any wrongdoing. Whenever you wrong someone, the best thing to do is to apologize so as to maintain the relationship.
But as important as apologizing is, it is not an easy thing to do. It can be a very cumbersome moment and many are even afraid of making an apology. This is not without cause because apologies tend to make you feel less right. You end up feeling like you are a bad person since you hurt someone else.
Since apologizing is difficult, though important, we decided to help you know how to do it well. In this article, you will learn how wrongdoings can affect different relationships, what the prerequisites of making an apology are, how to go about apologizing and also see some example apologies which can serve as guides.
SITUATIONS WHICH REQUIRE AN APOLOGY
Being a social being, you are involved in many relationships. From general friends, close friends, family, colleagues, business partners etc, these are all relationships which matter to you. As such, you naturally desire that the best of times are what you will experience.
But just as imperfect as everyone is, there will be times when things won’t go right. The reasons could be many but one thing is for sure: those are not the kind of moments you want to have.
And if they become too many or are left unchecked, not only will the relationship suffer but you could also end up getting hurt. Hurt is usually caused by the fact that at the heart of every kind of relationship is trust. When there is a breach of trust, you get hurt.
This is tied to the universal need of every human being to belong and be loved. Even in business, every company seeks to be loved by its customers, thus the need to build customer relations. Huge profits then become the popular key to measure the love (loyalty) from customers.
So, what situations are these that could come up and distract the flow of a good relationship?
If you wronged a friend
Friends are very important in your life and they play a major role in determining how you live your life.
“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” – Thomas Aquinas
Friends can at times be held closer than family, especially if you have been close to them for many years. You could also hold them close if you have shared some fond memories with them or they came to your rescue at a critical time.
When for example an argument breaks out and you say hurtful words to them, you can bet that they will question your friendship. This is the last thing you would want them to do. However, it is just inevitable. And once it happens, you need to quickly mend the friendship.
Some examples of how you could lose friends include being in a relationship with your friend’s girlfriend; going behind your friend’s back to get a contract he was eyeing; getting into a heated argument with your friend and saying some very hurtful words etc.
All these and many other examples can potentially destroy the friendship. If you value the relationship, it would be upon you to apologize to your friend for the wrong you did. This has the benefit of possibly mending the relationship and hopefully completely restoring it after he/she has forgiven you.
If you wronged your spouse or a family member
In most cases, the closest person you have in your life is your spouse. If you are not married, then it could be one of your family members or a close relative. This is usually as a result of the experiences you have both gone through together.
If it is your spouse, then it could be the gradual development of mutual feelings of love which led to your getting married. If you have kids, then they could have added the ‘glue’ to the union. Combine this with the dates you probably go for and fun activities you engage in to keep the fire burning. The result is a relationship which can suffer the most in case of a serious wrongdoing.
This is exactly why divorces are arguably the worst thing that can happen to anyone. It is painful to think, or even believe that the person you gave yourself to could hurt you as bad as he did.
If it is a brother, sister or other relative, this relationship could have been built on special memories shared between the two of you. From mischievous activities done together when young to life experiences as adults, much trust has definitely built up.
When suddenly one day you do or say something that really hurt the feelings of such a person, they can end up really wondering why you did it. As it turns out, hurts by close people are usually the most painful.
It is not unusual for the hurt person to question the authenticity of your friendship. Since close relationships are always full of sacrifices made by people in order to sustain the peace, you will most likely be judged as having been self-centered all through.
The hurt person might also believe that you have been taking advantage of him so as to achieve your goals.
Since you are keen on rebuilding the relationship, it is necessary to apologize for your words or actions. And as always, the earlier the better.
If you wronged your colleague or boss
Since we have a need for income, we will eventually look for a job. And once we have it, we will seek to keep it. With more job seekers than vacancies, you will often try to attain job security in your place of employment.
This means good relations with your colleagues and also your boss. Both of these kinds of people have a big say on your career and job security at your employment.
Maintaining a good rapport with your colleagues, building trust by being a confidant and keeping with the team spirit will serve to prove that you are a good person. So what happens when you act in a way that proves the contrary?
Similarly, your boss could have developed a tremendous amount of respect for you. He could have come to know you as an employee of integrity who puts in the required effort to bring about the desired results. In fact, he may have promoted you severally in the past due to this.
Suddenly, you mess up. You engage in actions which go against the company policies. You probably got involved in some corrupt dealings or exposed the company’s sensitive information to the public. What do you do in such a situation?
If you wronged a client or customer
Maybe you are not employed but are running your own business. You have worked hard and now have a few clients who support your business. You are still a small company but through the few clients you have, you are sustaining yourself.
Out of nowhere, you fail to meet one of your clients’ expectations. You deliver work that is sub-standard. You probably also deliver it past the deadline.
Or, you run a manufacturing company and a particular batch of your products is faulty. It was not detected by the quality control department and now is already in the market. Some customers have already sent official complaints via email and you know that more is yet to come.
How do you go about resolving this?
CONSIDERATIONS BEFORE MAKING AN APOLOGY
Immediately you become aware that you have wronged someone, you need to start thinking about making an apology. You should not allow the situation to get worse by remaining silent.
You may have been involved in an argument, probably a very heated one. This could have resulted in you saying the wrong words. You might have also acted out your anger in a violent manner thus physically hurting the other person.
It could also be that the argument didn’t get that far but still the impact was evident.
As you prepare to do the best thing for the relationship, there are two critical things to consider.
Sincerity is a must
You cannot make an apology if you are not sincere. Hiding your anger so as to get past the situation is a deception first to yourself then to the person you are apologizing to. This is quite the opposite of what is needed in rebuilding a broken relationship.
Whenever sincerity lacks, trust cannot grow. And without trust, there can never be any real and meaningful relations. Watch the below video for ways to cultivate honesty.
Sincerity is one of those things which can be communicated both verbally and non-verbally. As you might however know, non-verbal communication is stronger than verbal. Remember that actions speak louder than words?
Although you might be able to use all the right words, someone can indeed ‘sense’ when you are lying. This would definitely be the worst mistake you ever made. Keep in mind that the person you are apologizing to already feels cheated because he never expected you to do what you did.
No excuses or blaming
Whether it is the aggrieved party that started the argument or not, this is not the time to start blaming them. When making an apology, you are communicating a level of maturity. You have recognized that things went wrong and want to make them right.
You are therefore taking responsibility of your actions. Whatever the other person did or did not do, thus resulting in the current situation, is actually irrelevant at this point in time.
Since you are the one who drove the final nail into the coffin, the other person is most likely feeling deeply wounded. And if they haven’t offered an apology to you yet, it’s possible that they haven’t seen their wrong. All they know and remember is that you hurt them.
Since you have decided to deal with the situation for the benefit of both of you, put in the effort needed to stay away from blaming.
Blaming can happen in two ways:
1. Blame shifting – this is when you go on the offensive and start blaming the broken relationship on the other person. This is an aggressive approach and cannot possibly bring you the desired results.
When you blame shift, you are telling the person you hurt, that they are squarely responsible for the hurt they got from you. You are proudly telling them that what you did was right and they deserved the treatment they received from you.
This obviously makes things worse as it just aggravates the situation. The hurt person continues hurting and is made to feel the extra burden of carrying the responsibility.
2. Blame sharing – this is where you think you are being “fair” and taking your part of the blame. In this case, you are likely to use a statement like “I’m sorry for what I did to contribute to this situation.”
Although you may think you are being realistic, you are not going to achieve your goal if you take this approach. This is because your communication says that it is not entirely your fault that you did what you did. You are simply justifying your actions or words.
HOW TO APOLOGIZE EFFECTIVELY
How then do you apologize and achieve your goal of rebuilding the broken relationship?
Below we discuss 5 key steps to follow when making an apology. If you follow these simple steps, you will find that apologizing will not be as hard as it usually feels. Your chances of being forgiven will also be high.
Acknowledge the offense
Before apologizing, you need to know what you are going to apologize for. Just because the hurt person is not talking with you doesn’t mean you should just go and say things you aren’t sure about.
You need to recognize that your actions hurt him but more than that, identify the exact action. There is nothing as annoying to the hurt person as you apologizing for the wrong thing. If this person is close to you, he or she might interpret it to mean that you have never understood them. If it’s a spouse, things could potentially get worse.
The interpretation could also be that despite the time spent together, you have never really known what ticks and what doesn’t. This goes further to mean that the reason you don’t know these things is because you have never taken the time to learn. Meaning you haven’t been interested in them.
It is therefore of great importance for you to know what you did wrong and be sure to mention it while delivering your apology. This expresses concern for the hurt person as it shows that you noticed the wrong.
After identifying what went wrong, you have to take (full) responsibility for your actions. As we saw earlier, blame shifting or sharing will have a negative impact in this exercise. It will prove that you are just apologizing for the sake of getting rid of guilt.
On the other hand, when you take responsibility of your actions, it shows maturity and love. If you are apologizing to your spouse, this is most important because love brings a sense of safety. And where there is safety to express oneself, a relationship thrives.
While apologizing, a simple sentence like “I have realized that when we argued, I called you names which were not appropriate” could easily do it. It says what you did and shows that you take responsibility for the wrong action.
If the argument happened very recently, it would be wise to take some time to let things cool off. This prevents another argument from taking place.
Acknowledge the hurt you caused
Having identified the offense and taking responsibility, it is now time to mention that you know that you hurt the other person. This stage may need some thinking. And considering that you are not delivering the apology over several days, you will have identified the hurt before making the apology.
It will be important to take time to understand just how your actions or words hurt the other person. Did you lower their self-esteem? Did you embarrass them in public? Did you remind them of a painful past they had forgotten and didn’t want to remember?
Whatever it is, you need to get it right for reasons similar to those mentioned in the previous step. You want to show that you fully understand the wrong you did. This will in turn show that you are aware of their feelings and are sorry for hurting them.
When acknowledging the hurt you caused, remember to be honest. Use the right words and try to be as direct as possible. Also, avoid using ambiguous words whose meaning can be debated. The point you want to make should be clear.
As you communicate this, show empathy. Let it be known that you feel the hurt yourself although obviously not like the other person feels it. Empathy helps connect with the other person and it certainly helps you get a glimpse into their feelings.
Empathy is a necessity even when preparing to apologize. When you are empathetic, you increase the chances of the other person seeing you as being genuine in your expression of regret. Therefore, as they listen to you, and look at your body language, they will tell that you are being sincere.
Apologies are never empty words which are followed by nothing. They incorporate some form of actions intended to prove the desire to make things right. And since you are the one apologizing, it is your job to propose the action you will take to make amends.
However, in case you are not sure on what the best thing to do is, it is not wrong to ask. Just ask in a way that shows you honestly want to do what is best. As you ask, be prepared to be told anything. If you feel that what you have been told is too big to achieve, be sure to mention it.
If it is a client, you can offer some discounted or free products and services. If it is your boss, you can offer to re-do the submitted work if this is possible. If not, just promise to do a better job next time—and mean it.
Watch the below video for more information about making amends.
A common way for many to make amends is by taking the previously-wronged person to a concert or any other event they will enjoy. This is to help erase the bad memory and start the healing process towards being forgiven.
These work especially well if there is nothing that can be done to reverse the situation. For example if what happened is the utterance of wrong words, these cannot be taken back. Neither can action be undone. Anything that serves to change the feelings of hurt will therefore come in handy.
Do not get it wrong though. The words and body language you use are the most important aspects of an apology. Choose the right words and do not be afraid to show your vulnerability during the process.
Promise that it won’t happen again
The whole essence of apologizing is to point out your mistake and show that you recognize it as a wrongdoing. And because it is wrong and it hurt someone you care about, you will never repeat that same mistake again.
You need to understand that this is a very solemn promise you are making. Do not take it to be just part of the process. If you make the same mistake again, you will promptly be reminded that you promised never to repeat it again. You might then be viewed as one who was not honest.
What’s the trick?
The trick here lies in asking for help to ensure you never hurt the person again. Of course this is very dependent on the affected relationship. If it your boss you are apologizing to, asking for help will possibly not work. In that case, just promise not to repeat the mistake and work on how to avoid it.
If it is a friend or spouse involved, you can be more open and vulnerable at this point and admit that you have a weakness. If you have been hiding it, then this would be the best time to expose it. Do not mind being accused of living a lie.
You can explain that you were simply trying to avoid hurting them all along. Remember that whatever you are saying has to be true. Do not say anything just for the sake of getting the apology across. Lies don’t usually live very long, especially in friendships.
You can ask your friend to point out to you when he or she notices you are doing something. For example, if you recently burst out in anger and your weakness is allowing anger to build up, then ask them to point out when you are being silent in an argument. The silence will often signify that you are suppressing anger.
You can also ask them to help you communicate better. For example, problems with bottling up emotions could easily be sorted by learning how to be assertive. This social skill helps you communicate your needs and feeling more easily and with respect for both yourself and others.
Ask for forgiveness
The last step in apologizing is asking for forgiveness. This is actually the whole purpose of apologizing. The desired goal is to be forgiven for your bad conduct and have the relationship progress to higher heights.
The most important thing to note however, is that offering forgiveness is completely at the discretion of the one receiving your apology. It is upon him to decide whether to forgive you or not.
In view of this, it is crucial not to pressure the hurt person to forgive you. Also understand that not everyone will process your apology immediately. Some people will want to take some time to digest it and give you a response later.
If you are not sure which way the person you hurt handles apologies, just allow them time. Let them know that it is OK for them to take some time to think through the apology. When you do this, you further show your respect for them by giving them power to make the decision on forgiveness.
An important note on forgiveness
When you wrong someone and are honest about it, you will certainly feel guilty about it. For you to offer an effective apology, it is also important that you forgive yourself too. Forgiving yourself is not in any way tied to whether the other person forgives you or not.
This is simply between you and God. Forgiveness is therapy for your soul and the person who does not forgive ends up carrying an unnecessary burden. In fact, some people get forgiven but carry the guilt around and get unnecessarily stressed by it yet the other person moved on in peace.
If the other person also forgives you, then heaven comes down for both of you. If they choose to hold on to the wrong, then you experience heaven alone. Either way, you stand to benefit.
EXAMPLES OF APOLOGIES
Below are some example apologies for different situations. You can use them as guides when preparing to make your own apology. Take note of the flow of the steps discussed above.
Apology to your spouse for hurtful words spoken during a fight
“I’m sorry for what happened last night when we had a fight. It was wrong for me to call you fat and I know that I hurt you by saying that. It was very insensitive of me and I apologize for it. I promise not to do it again and request that you forgive me.”
Apology to your manager for a shoddy job done
“I’m sorry for arguing with you yet it was clear that the work I submitted was below par. I understand how this has impacted negatively on the performance of my team and wasted company time because the work has to be re-done by Michael. I have undertaken to consult with my colleagues more closely and promise to be more keen in the future.”
Apology to a friend you hurt by not attending their graduation ceremony
“I’m very sorry I missed your graduation ceremony. I planned to attend but ended up forgetting. I know that being your best friend, my presence there meant a lot to you. I promise to give our friendship more attention. I’ll also be setting reminders on my phone to help me keep tabs on special events. Please forgive me and allow me to make it up to you by paying for a spa treatment. That would be a special one just for you.”
While making an apology is often difficult due to the discomfort it brings, you will at least find it easier from this day onward. Just be honest and show that you regret hurting the other person. If the situation allows you to make amends, do it. Promise to avoid the mistake and ask for forgiveness.
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