A Short Guide to Saying Sorry the Right Way

Learn how to apologize, save relationships and friendships and avoid conflict.

A lot of people find it very hard to admit they were wrong in the first place, let alone apologize. Sometimes people even make things worse by offering a half-hearted apology that only makes matters worse. Find out how to avoid these nasty situations by taking a deep breath and apologizing when needed.

Taking the Blame

Young beautiful blond woman with pink bow apologizing

Admit it if you did something wrong. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a business environment, romantic relationship or a friendship; honest people know how to admit that they are wrong and suffer the consequences. A colleague of mine forgot to send an important email to one of our marketing clients which lead to us losing the account. It wasn’t he didn’t want to, he just forgot.

We’re humans, not perfect, it happens. The client was angry because of the lost time, the management was angry because it made us all look bad, and everyone was angry. I know people who would have produced ten million excuses in a minute just to get themselves off the hook. The dog died, the kids are sick, the traffic was bad, I’m overworked, I’m cranky, or whatever. He did one thing that none of them would do – went right into the manager’s office, took a deep breath and said “This was my fault and my fault alone. There is no excuse, I just forgot. I’m sorry that my mistake led to compromising the entire team’s image, and I’m prepared to take the consequences”. He got a small financial punishment (he did lose the deal) and a pat on the back for manning up to his mistake.

Think and Then Talk

If the situation allows some time for thinking, if you don’t need to say something right away, stop and think about carefully before formulating your apology. First of all, define what you did that made someone else feel hurt, wronged, or insulted. Think about what you did, and why you did it. Finally, put yourself in the other person’s shoes – how would you feel if they did that to you?

Try it on a simple example; let’s say you accidentally broke something that was very important to someone. Make it a longer statement, and the deeper you go, the more nuances you will find. Just saying “Mom, I’m sorry I broke your vase (or whatever)” is good enough, but try and make it more personal. You are sorry that you accidentally broke it, but you are also sorry about destroying something that had an emotional value as well as a material one.

“I’m sorry I broke your vase. I know how much you liked it and treasured it, and I’m also sorry for making you sad about it”. If it is a material object, offer to reimburse the value or find something similar, and insist that you will do all you can not to do something like that again.

See how we skip the “never” part? Personally I don’t like saying “never” since you can’t actually swear to never, ever doing something again, maybe accidentally. So it’s important to the other person to hear that you will do everything humanely possible not to make them upset again, but within normal and rational limits.

Add a Little Something

woman holding sorry note

Think of a special thing you can do for the person you’ve wronged. It’s more endearing to take the time and do something personal, instead of getting an “I’m sorry” present or card. Don’t take the easy way out! Think of something that will cheer the person up, make them feel respected and special.

It can be taking your boyfriend to see that action movie that you never wanted to rent, or making a cute knick knack for the colleague or friend. Don’t just go out and buy it – even if the material value is bigger, this way it will be more personal, and the person won’t have a feeling of being bought off.

But I’m Not Sorry, I Wasn’t Wrong!

Well, sometimes that doesn’t really matter. An important part of being a grown-up is knowing when to admit you were wrong, but also knowing when to step down or compromise for the greater good. You need to recognize when a situation could compromise a relationship, and honestly decide what’s more important – your pride, or the relationship.

Back in high school, I had a friend who had self-confidence issues, and some of the girls in our group sometimes teased her. For the record, I never participated and even told them numerous times to stop, but it went on for a couple of months. Finally she came to me and told me she was mad at me for being part of that group and “saying mean things to her”.? She demanded an apology, and I was shocked since I never said an unkind word to her. But I looked her straight in the eye and told her I was sorry that her feelings were hurt by “all of us”, and that I would do whatever I could to stop it from ever happening again.

I felt awful and unfairly treated for a couple of days, but I got over it. And a couple of months later she came to me and told me that she knew that I wasn’t to blame, but she was so angry and sad that she came to the one person she knew wouldn’t yell back if she said something.

By the way, we’re almost 30 now, and she’s still one of my closest friends, while the others from that group have drifted away. So I put the friendship above the truth, and it worked. And I would do it again.

Don’t Ever Say This

One of the things you shouldn’t do when apologizing is making a statement that means that you think that the other person is just imagining things. So think twice and don’t say “I’m sorry if you feel that way, but” or “I’m sorry if you think that’s how it happened”. In the heat of an argument, people do tend to say mean things just to make the other person angry, but don’t stoop to that level. Apologize if you really mean it; don’t make things worse by being sarcastic if you don’t.

I Apologized But It Didn’t Work

sad girl sitting alone

Depending on the situation and the person you’re apologizing to, this can also happen and cause additional stress in the relationship. The sad truth is, not all of us are caring, thoughtful and forgiving.

Sometimes people just won’t take an apology, just like there are those who will never take “no” for an answer. The only thing you can do is learn from the experience and move on. Saying you’re sorry once in an honest, open and emotional manner should be enough for everybody.

People who want you to apologize dozens of times for a single thing “until it’s right” are not the type of people you want in your life.

Quotes about Apologizing

The world’s great minds have offered their opinions on both giving and receiving apologies, but I think that these three sum it all up pretty well. The Chinese proverb really gives you an interesting visual, imagining yourself running after an unkind word you said. Makes you want to run faster.

“Don’t ruin an apology with an excuse” – Benjamin Franklin, American politician and writer

“A stiff apology is a second insult… The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt” – G.K. Chesterton, English writer

“Not even the fastest horse can catch a word spoken in anger” – Chinese proverb

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  • thank you this will really help me and my friend malaca put aside our fight cause i mean we fight way to much