How to Apologize Like an Adult
No one enjoys being in a position of having to say “I’m sorry.” And sometimes, we will do whatever we can to avoid saying those words, even if we know it’s the right thing to do. Whether we don’t want to appear weak, have difficulty with confrontation, or simply do not like admitting we did something wrong, if we are adults we have to learn how to apologize to one another. Here are some things to consider before swallowing your pride and uttering the (seemingly) two most difficult words in the English language:
1. Actually say the words “I’m sorry”
So often we may encounter people who have flubbed up and thought a simple “my bad” is enough to take responsibility for the mistake. There are certainly situations in which this is appropriate, but if you find yourself shrugging off a misstep that caused an inconvenience or even hurt to another person, this simply is not enough. Stepping up and saying “I’m sorry” may bruise our egos, but it means we are being compassionate beings who are aware of our impact on others.
2. Empathize with the other person
It’s a simple practice in theory, yet actually putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes can be uncomfortable. How did the comment you thought was a joke affect the person who reacted negatively to it? What was the person affected by a forgetful mistake feeling? What was it like for your friend or partner to be on the receiving end of you lashing out after a bad day? Practicing empathy now can prevent future apologies.
3. Learn the apology languages
Not sure how to make things right? Depending on the situation, different “apology languages” may apply. Dr. Gary Chapman details these languages in his book Things I Wish I’d Known Before Getting Married, but in a nutshell they are: expressing regret for your actions, accepting responsibility, making restitution—otherwise known as righting the wrong, expressing a desire to change future behavior and asking for forgiveness. Reflect on which language is most difficult for you and start studying!
4. Don’t undo your apology with passive aggression
“I’m sorry, but…” is not a way to begin an apology because what usually follows is a repetition of the original offense. In the same vein, saying “I’m sorry you’re offended” is not a good way to go, either. This only serves to accuse the other person of having feelings. Digging our heels in when we have genuinely done or said something hurtful to someone else is not what healthy communicators do. Tap into that empathy again and choose the most compassionate response.
5. Don’t apologize when it’s not necessary
There are some of us who may not have a problem apologizing, but instead do it too often! Specifically, a lot of women find themselves in this position and say “I’m sorry” for things that do not warrant an apology. If you find yourself apologizing for inserting your (respectful) opinion into a conversation, for being bumped into, or for asking for help—stop! Instead of asking “I’m sorry, can I say something about this topic?”, build confidence in just saying what you need to say.
With these basic considerations, we can all be well on our way to being expert apologizers and truly empathic communicators.