We are all fallible creatures, bumping around the place, trying to live our lives the best we can and in doing so are prone to miscommunicate, misinterpret, misspeak and mishear. Apologising and making amends is part of being more conscious, deepening understanding  and strengthening our integrity and trustworthiness.  Making a sincere or genuine apology to someone we love or care about is our admission and acknowledgement that we have caused hurt or harm, whether intentional or not.

An apology isn’t focusing on the intent but rather on taking responsibility for the impact.  Taking responsibility is a step towards becoming awake around some of our more hurtful behaviours.

Why Apologising to Strangers Is Easier than to Those We Love

We are apologising to strangers all the time on a daily basis. Bumping into someone in the street or on a bus, we say sorry straight away. The words ‘I’m sorry’ seem to roll off the tongue automatically and we move on. So why is it so hard to make a personal apology to someone close to us – our partner, family member or friend.

Apologising to those we are close to is difficult because it requires humility. We find ourselves in the one down position where there is an admission of error, an exposure of our fallibility or our unconsciousness. In this admission there is a certain vulnerability. It takes humility to make a sincere apology, and for some people our humility can feel uncomfortably close to humiliation.

For some there is a such a feeling of shame or guilt around our actions that we get stuck and freeze in  facing the other person. Before we go into some steps for making a sincere apology, I’d like to give a little overview on what doesn’t work if you are sincerely wanting to make repair.

The Apologies That DON’T work

Most of us have been on the receiving end of a bad or insincere apology. (Perhaps we’ve also been an offender). The lack of sincerity in a bad apology can leave us feeling doubtful, confused and quite possibly more hurt than we started with.

  1. The “I’m Sorry If…” apology

It’s confusing and even inflammatory to be on the receiving end of an “I’m sorry If…” apology. These are often vague and nebulous and don’t really  acknowledge any responsibility for  hurt.  Many politicians have got this kind of apology down to a fine art.  It may be something like: “Well I’m sorry, if I hurt you.” Or worse still, we might get, “Well I’m sorry if you feel hurt.” This is the apology that isn’t really making an apology. The emphasis is on the ‘if’ and suggests that the one who is hurt needs to be taking responsibility for the problem.

The “I’m Sorry If…” apology, doesn’t really seem to say or know what they did, and so can’t really offer to not do it again. There is no repair possible in this and it creates a feeling of unsafety.

  1. The “I’m Sorry You feel That Way” Apology

This is a more passive aggressive or martyry variance to the “I’m Sorry If…” apology.  It may be expressed as:  “I thought I was being helpful. I’ve tried so hard,  I’m sorry you don’t see that.”

Basically this is not only not apologising, but has an underlying tone of anger that the other person had the temerity to raise an issue with them.

  1. The “Yes, But, No But” Apology

This non apology, apology is the ‘yes, but’ apology. It defends the offender’s hurtful behaviour. It is often expressed as “I’m sorry, but I only said those things because you made me so angry.” This not only takes the responsibility off the offender, but it deflects the hurtful behaviour .  This one looks like an apology only because it starts with ‘I’m sorry’ but ends with an attack.

What A Sincere Apology Can Do

A sincere apology opens up the conversation between you and the other person. It can be very challenging for someone to come forward and share something that hurt them. We can often go through inner turmoil about whether or not to raise something.  It takes courage to speak out. So when someone you care about approaches you with a hurt or grievance it is important to bring your full presence their feelings and take into consideration how difficult it can be to raise something.

It is an act of courage, dignity and integrity to be able to momentarily suspend your defence and listen.  To take responsibility for a mistake or hurt caused strengthens self-confidence, self respect and trustworthiness.  When the air has been cleared around an issue it can feel like a rainbow after a storm. Everyone feels a sense of relief and goodwill. So here are my suggestions in making a sincere apology. They’ve been written as 7 Steps which you can condense in a way that works best for you.

7 Steps to Making a Sincere Apology and Repair  

  1. Stop and Listen to what the complaint is about. It can take courage to speak out about an issue. Even if you don’t immediately agree, take a breath and suspend your own reaction to what’s being said and just listen.  When we are listening we can get a lot of information, not just from the words but the impact of the issue has had on the other person’s feelings.  This will help in offering a genuinely empathetic response.  Taking responsibility involves a willingness to witness the pain or distress that you’ve caused. We may need to listen to the other person’s pain, anger or fear before we can apologise sincerely.
  2. Get clear in your mind about what you’re apologising for and the impact this has had.  Ask the other person if you could repeat back what you’ve heard so that you are clear that you’ve understood what you’re apologising for. Once you’ve done so you may ask them if you’ve understood their complaint correctly. E.g. you might say “If I understand correctly, when I did (or didn’t do) XX that made you feel YY. Did I hear that right?“ Give them an opportunity to clarify if they need to.
  3. Apologise Sincerely.  Start with those two simple words: “I’m sorry,” or “I apologise.” This is essential because these words express your remorse over your actions. Include what you’re apologising for, e.g.  “I’m sorry that I was abrupt with you earlier this morning.  I feel bad for the way I spoke to you.” How will you know if it is sincere? Take a moment to close your eyes and notice your own feelings. Do you feel in your heart sadness, concern or regret for what has occurred. You may share this with the other person. Sharing from your heart creates a bridge for connection.
  4. Keep it Clean and Simple. Keeping your apology clean and simple means you’re not going to add your own justifications or defences to the action surrounding the apology. This will dilute the sincerity of the apology and detracts from the impact of the hurt felt by the other person.  It can come across as an avoidance to taking responsibility.  When we take ownership for an issue we instil trust and this is part of restoring the goodwill in a relationship.
  5. Make Amends – Is there anything else that needs to happen to create repair?  Is there something that you need to be mindful of in your behaviour in the future? If you aren’t sure you might ask: “What can I do to make things better?” Make sure you let the other person know of your commitment to bring greater awareness around your actions and changing your behaviour. This an important part of repair and rebuilding trust.  To follow on from the earlier example you might say: “I commit to managing my stress better so that I’m not abrupt in my communication with you.”
  6. Allow there to be a ‘Full Stop’ after the Apology. There is always that feelings of discomfort and embarrassment over a hurt. This doesn’t immediately go away once we’ve apologised. It can be tempting to keep talking and risk sliding into your own justifications or explanations. Just stop and allow there to be silence after an apology. This gives the other person space and time to consider your apology before they respond. Tend to your own feelings of discomfort and catch your inclination to fill the silence with words.
  7. Be aware that you’re Apology may need Digesting: When there has been a hurt or offence, apologising doesn’t necessarily make the hurt go away immediately. Give the other person time to heal, and don’t rush them through the process.  How your apology is received is somewhat out of your control. We need to be able to let go and give the other person space to consider our apology and digest what’s been said.

If you’re needing help around an apology or a specific hurt that you want to repair contact me now for a free .20minute consultation. 

Best wishes