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How Not to Apologize

Common Mistakes People Make When Apologizing

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There is an art to saying you're sorry.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Is the art of the apology lost? A good apology can help you smooth even the biggest goof ups out with a friend, while a botched apology can make things that much worse. Here's some ways not to make a apology.

Start With the Word "If"

In other words, one way not to apologize is to make phrases like this your opener.

  • "If I hurt you..."
  • "If you felt bad about..."
  • "If you think..."
  • "If I made a mistake..."

A great apology includes an acknowledgement of responsibility. The problem with starting with "if" is that it implies that you don't think you did anything wrong.

Even if you really didn't do anything, you still need accept your friend's hurt feelings. So instead of saying "if," say something like:

  • "I'm sorry you were hurt. I never want to hurt you but I can see that's what I did. Please let me explain why I did what I did."
  • "I can see that you're hurting from what I said to John. I had no intention of hurting your feelings. You're a good friend to me and I was actually telling John about what Jane did, not you. But I accidentally dragged you into it. I'm so sorry."

Apologize Publicly for a Private Problem and Vice Versa

The nature of the apology should really follow the offense. So if you publicly embarrassed your friend, you should apologize in front of the people it happened in front of. By contrast, if you had a private argument with a friend, you should take them aside and apologize privately.

If you did something publicly to a friend and then later take them aside to say you're sorry, they'll still feel bad because the people who saw what happened won't see that you regret it. By the same note, if you privately have an argument, apologizing in front of a group will make you look insincere. (More on types of apologies.)

Wait Until You're Good and Ready to Apologize

Apologizing, like forgiveness, is something that happens when you decide to do it. You can't wait until you naturally "feel" like apologizing, because that day will probably never come. Even so, it's the right thing to do, and something that is required to maintain a relationship. If you wait too long, your apology won't be as effective.

Get Irritated With Your Friend for "Making" You Apologize

Some people get mad when they do something wrong and a friend actually calls them out on it. They don't want to admit what they did, so apologizing for it irritates them even more. As a result, they angrily say things that make the situation even worse, rather than making a sincere apology.

If you feel angry when you have to apologize, put yourself in your friend's position. Ask yourself:

  • How would I like to be apologized to?
  • What tone would I like my friend to use when they say they are sorry?
  • Is an apology effective if I do it reluctantly and with irritation?
  • Would I forgive a friend who made me feel as if I shouldn't have made them apologize?

If you can think about the situation from your friend's perspective before you say you're sorry, your apology will be much more effective.

Make the Apology All About You

When you give an apology it isn't the time to unleash all your frustrations. It isn't therapy, where you talk about your problem. Apologies are the time you should take responsibility for what you did (or the feelings you caused your friend), and get to a good place in your relationship.

Some people think that if they explain themselves, the apology will be much more effective. But this takes the focus off of what your friend wants to hear (that you did something they thought was wrong and that you're sorry for it) to what you want them to know (that you're hurt too, that you hate to apologize, that you were put in an awkward position, etc.)

Once you shift the focus of your apology to you, it will be received less favorably with your friend. Pay attention to these types of statements:

  • I'm sorry I hurt you. But you don't understand how hard this is for me.
  • I never meant to hurt your feelings. I was upset too. Look how my hand is shaking! See how nervous I am?
  • I wanted to apologize to you for the other night. I was really upset with Michael and as a result I said some stupid things. You have no idea what I'm going through with Michael. I wish things were easier. I haven't slept in a week...

Before you start talking about yourself at all, firmly acknowledge your friend's feelings and verbally take responsibility for what you did. Then, allow your friend to process your apology. When your apology is accepted, you can then share more about yourself. You could do this by saying something like:

  • I'm so glad you forgive me. I'm having a hard time with things now, can I talk to you about them?
  • Thank you for forgiving me. Like I said, I'm so sorry you were hurt and I'm glad we can move forward. I've missed talking with you, and really need your insight. I'm going through a rough time right now.

Allow the apology to stand firmly on its own before sharing the things that you're going through. You have to extend the olive branch first before you can expect your friend to put their feelings aside and comfort you.

If you committed one of these "apology sins" and just made the conflict between you and your friend worse, consider signing up for this four-week ecourse on working through conflict. You'll get a lesson in how to work things through with your friend every single week.

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