The art of a heartfelt apology

If you’ve been mostly stuck at home with one or more family members over the past year or so, there’s a good chance you get upset every now and then. When you’re under a lot of stress, it’s not uncommon to say something mean, or even lash out at someone you care about. And we all make thoughtless mistakes every now and then, like forgetting a promise or breaking something.

Not sure if you should apologize?

Even if you don’t think what you said or did was so bad, or if you believe the other person is actually wrong, it’s still important to apologize when you’ve hurt or angered someone. “To maintain or reestablish bonds with other people, you need to let go of concerns about right and wrong and instead try to understand the other person’s experience,” says Dr. Ronald Siegel, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. This ability is one of the cornerstones of emotional intelligence, which underpins healthy and productive relationships of all types.

How to really apologize

For an excuse to be effective, it must be genuine. A successful apology confirms that the other person felt offended and acknowledges their responsibility (you accept that your actions caused the other person pain). You mean to say that you really feel sorry and care about the person who was injured and that you promise to make amends, including taking steps to prevent accidents similar to the examples below.

According to the late psychiatrist Dr. Aaron Lazare, apology expert and former chancellor and dean of the University of Massachusetts medical school, a good apology has four components:

  • Acknowledge the offense. Take responsibility for the offense, whether it was physical or psychological harm, and confirm that your behavior was not acceptable. Avoid using vague or evasive language, or making excuses in a way that minimizes the offense or questions whether the victim was really hurt.
  • Explain what happened. The challenge here is to explain how the offense happened without excusing it. In fact, sometimes the best strategy is to say there is no excuse.
  • Express your remorse. If you regret the mistake or feel ashamed or humiliated, say so: it’s all part of expressing genuine remorse.
  • Offer to make amends. For example, if you damaged someone’s property, have it repaired or replaced. When the offense has hurt someone’s feelings, acknowledge the pain and promise to try to be more sensitive in the future.

Make a sincere apology

The words you choose for your apology matter. Here are some examples of good and bad excuses.

AN EFFECTIVE WORDWHY IT WORKS
“I’m sorry I lost my temper last night. I have been under a lot of pressure at work, but that is no excuse for my behavior. I love you and I will try harder not to take my frustrations on you. “Takes responsibility, explains but does not excuse why the error occurred, expresses remorse and compassion, and promises redress.
“I forgot. I apologize for this mistake. It shouldn’t have happened. What can I do to avoid this problem in the future?”Take responsibility, describe the mistake, make the person feel groomed, and strike up a conversation about how to fix the mistake.
INEFFECTIVE WORDWHY IT DOESN’T WORK
“I apologize for everything that happened.”The language is vague; the offense is not specified.
“Mistakes were made.”The use of the passive voice avoids taking responsibility.
“Okay, I apologize. I didn’t know this was such a touchy question for you.It seems resentful, puts the blame on the offended person (for “sensitivity”).

The post The Art of Sincere Apologies first appeared on the Harvard Health Blog.

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Jothi Venkat

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