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5 Steps to Giving an Effective Apology

Jeremy Parker MA, M.Ed, LAC, NCC

Apologizing can be very hard to do. Our minds naturally try to talk us out of apologizing, telling us things like, “you didn’t do anything”, “you’re going to look weak”, or “apologizing won’t change anything, what’s done is done.” This is often just our pride and ego talking, which keeps us from building and maintaining healthy relationships. However, there are some of us who may have tried apologizing in the past, and it just didn’t seem to work. This may have been a result of not fully understanding how to give a genuine, meaningful apology. So, today, I want to share with you five steps you can take to give an effective apology.  

Step 1: Tap Into a Sense of Curiosity and Reflect on What Happened and What You Did

When you are thinking about apologizing, it is often a good idea to reflect on the situation. What happened and what did you say or do, accidentally or purposely, that may be worthy of apologizing for? Try identifying what you said or did, and what thoughts and feelings were you having during that moment. This allows you to get a better understanding of your intentions during that time. Also, you want to reflect on how your actions could have possibly offended the other person. This helps you identify what you are apologizing for and why. 

Step 2: Put Yourself in the Other Person’s Shoes

When thinking about apologizing, it’s often helpful to try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Ask yourself, “How might my actions have affected that person?” or “Would I have liked to be treated this way?”. That way you can start to understand how your words or actions could have possibly hurt the other person. 

Step 3: Really Mean It

When apologizing, it is very important to mean it. What this means is taking responsibility for your actions, and truly giving a meaningful, heartfelt apology regardless of whether your actions were intentional or unintentional. Also, express regret for your actions. This can help show the other person you really care and mean what you are saying. Lastly, be ready to make amends for what has happened. This means being willing to right the wrongs. Sometimes this may not be possible, however, just being willing to do something to make things better can be enough. 

Step 4: Practice

Before giving an apology, it may be helpful to practice it. This can be done in multiple ways. You can write it out, talk through it with another person, or record yourself. Practicing your apology may not be necessary depending on the severity of the issue you are dealing with. Some apologies, you may be able to give in the moment the offensive action took place, whereas others, you may need more time to understand what really happened. 

Step 5: Just Do It

The last step is to give an apology. There are multiple factors to be aware of when giving an apology. The first is finding a good time and place to apologize. You may want to ask the person if it is an appropriate time to talk. This allows you to respect their time and space, which can set the stage for them to be more open to hearing you. Also, make sure you have tools and strategies ready to handle the difficult thoughts and feelings that may show up for you while giving the apology. If not, these thoughts and feelings can become distracting and may inhibit your ability to give an authentic apology. So, I suggest having a few strategies for handling these thoughts and feelings handy. Strategies that I have found to be very effective are mindfulness-based strategies such as acceptance, diffusion, contacting the present moment, and perspective taking. 

Giving an apology takes a lot of courage and empathy. It can put you in a very vulnerable position. However, apologizing can be very rewarding in the end. You get to possibly repair or strengthen a meaningful relationship with another person, while at the same time, building character. We often avoid apologizing because we simply do not know how to. It is my hope that these steps provide you with confidence in giving that important person in your life a genuine apology.

If you would like to talk through these steps with a therapist or work on strengthening the relationships in your life, Symmetry Counseling is here to support you. Explore our counseling services on our website, and connect with us today to get paired with one of our therapists at a counseling center in Arizona, Illinois, Texas, or  Washington D.C.

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