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How To Say Sorry
As Elton John put it in his classic song, ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’. He wasn’t lying. The occasion where ‘Sorry’ is appropriate is, more often than not, a moment fraught with emotion and mitigating circumstances. It’s not easy to know how to say sorry.
There are many scenarios where saying sorry is the right way forward, whether it be empathising with someone’s else’s bereavement or saying sorry for being late. However, in this article, we are focusing on the regular apologies with people close to you. We all know the moment. We’ve all been there. You said something hurtful. You let someone down. You damaged your relationship in some way.
What makes it difficult is that often the other party is also at fault. It takes two and there are always two sides to the story. You too may feel hurt or let down.
The fact is, we’re only human, and in the heat of the moment, anything can go wrong. That’s why we have all found ourselves in this position. Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes. It’s how we resolve these issues that matters, and ultimately can help your relationship grow. There are some strategies for how to say sorry.
As a side note, there are also ‘Sorrys’ for when you’ve really screwed up. Perhaps you’ve cheated on your other half, you’ve lied about something serious or you’ve broken someone’s trust. This is a far more serious set of circumstances. We’ve created a whole separate article to provide you with some ideas for how to approach these problems.
We are going to cover some powerful tactics for how to say sorry for you to use in difficult times.
1. Say Sorry Quickly
This method is honestly the most effective tool to dissipate a looming argument.
For example, you’ve come home and, before you know it, you’re being scolded for forgetting something, or worse, a list of things you have failed to do. The natural response is to bristle. You’ve only just got home and immediately you’re under attack. ‘What the hell!’.
However, if you reply with ‘you’re absolutely right. I can see how this must have really pissed you off. I’m sorry. I will do my best to remember’, I promise you that that fight will dissipate immediately.
It’s not easy to do, but is so effective was so effective it became amusing. Say sorry immediately.
2. Be Sincere
If you are not sincere you are not saying sorry at all. You are stoking the fire. Expect negative outcomes if you are not sincere.
3. Put Yourself In Their Shoes. Empathise!
One way to show you are sincere is to empathise. People don’t get upset without reason.
You may not see it. For the most part, we humans generally function with our own immediate needs at the forefront. Take a moment to think about where they are coming from. Ask yourself, ‘why do they feel this way?’. If you were in their shoes, what would you think?
When you’ve done this, state that you understand how they feel. For example, ‘I understand you are upset because I have not done X. I can see how this is upsetting. I am sorry’ By acknowledging not just the problem, but also how they might feel, that person will feel heard, and it’s hard to still be angry after that.
4. Own It
Acknowledge your part in the situtation.
Whatever you do, don’t follow this with ‘but you were out of line as well’. It’s too easy to point out their faults, and will immediately cancel your apology. Blame is a negative approach that will only start the fight again.
It is up to the other person to say this. If you are totally contrite and show proper understanding of their position, it is likely they will concede their own role in the affair.
That being said, their response isn’t guaranteed. Don’t expect it. They are human too. Not everyone knows how to say sorry. Don’t expect the same.
5. Don’t Try And Win
By apologising, you do not have the higher ground. Don’t see it as a ‘win’. You are not the ‘holier than thou’ participant in the relationship. This is insincere and will detract from your apology.
6. Make A Gesture
Show that person you care. The best way to do this is to make a gesture. That means doing something to help them that will make their life easier. You could do something around the house, or surprise them with a gift, or even better, both.
The ultimate approach is to do something to help them and then present the gesture with a gift. For example, you could do a job they hate doing, then leave a box of chocolates on the top with the message ‘Sorry I Messed Up’.
7. Say What You’re Going To Do About It
It’s one thing to say sorry, but you can take it a step further by offering next steps. Not only will they forgive you, but they will respect you for your progressive approach
8. What If They Don’t Forgive You?
This is always a possible outcome. If you follow the steps above, your likelihood of forgiveness is far higher. N
Sometimes it might be a case of allowing a bit of time. You’ve said your piece. You need to wait, and then follow up.
Perhaps you need to work harder. That gesture we mentioned could be far greater. Think of something that would mean a lot to the other person. Something truly thoughtful that only you can do for them: hide little messages all over the house, hide little gifts that they’ll keep finding weeks later, surprise them with an evening out watching their favourite show or delivery a yummy treat that will make them smile.
If that still doesn’t work, it’s important you respect their feelings. If they want nothing to do with you, then tell them once more you are sorry, that you do not want the relationship to end, but that you respect their feelings and will leave them be.
Looking for additional reading on this?
I cannot recommend enough a book called ‘How To Win Friends And Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie
Despite the slightly off-putting name, it is a treasure trove of good advice about handling people, as well as how to say sorry.