How to Apologize Properly

Everyone makes mistakes. We all have flaws and imperfections. So why is apologizing so hard to do when we are playing on the same field? Wouldn’t it be nice that when we make a mistake, we can easily reconcile with the person by giving a proper apology?

However, as I’m sure you‘re aware of that giving a proper apology is a very daunting task. Not only do you have to overcome your fears and limiting beliefs, but you also have to avoid fake apologies. Only after you have accomplished those two steps, can you finally learn to apologize sincerely.

Overcoming Fears and Limiting Beliefs

There are countless fears associated with giving an apology. When you apologize to someone, there’s always the fear of rejection and uncertainty lingering in the atmosphere. What happens if the person you apologize to reject your apology? Will you feel vulnerable for not having full control of the situation? How about humiliation? Do you feel humiliated and defeated by exposing your feelings to others? If you have experienced this firsthand, no wonder why it is so hard to apologize properly to others.

However, being in a state of denial is never the answer. You can always tell yourself that you don’t have to apologize for anything or that it is not your fault. There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling this way. Resisting these feelings are futile. Acknowledge why you are feeling this way, and make amends with yourself. Tell yourself that these fears are yours alone and that it does not have to have an impact on your decisions to make things right. You may think that apologizing shows a sign of weakness in your character. However, that is not the case. Think about it. You need courage and mental strength to even consider giving a proper apology to others. Or, you can simply avoid actions. Which option seems easier to do? The latter one, I suppose…

Apologizing may seem like admitting defeat to others, but it will promote positive growth. When you accept your own fault, you accept full responsibility of your actions. Guilty conscience will fade away. Even if you never had guilty conscience to begin with, learning to apologize properly will help develop lasting relationships with others. It will promote self confidence in your words and actions. Remember that asking for forgiveness from others is no harder that forgiving oneself. Give yourself all the time you need to develop this important trait. It is not something you can do half-assed or half-heartedly.

Avoiding Fake Apologies

When you are making a real, sincere apology, remember to avoid using fake apologies. You may ask me, “Hey Luigi, what is a fake apology?” Well, if you want to look up the technical term, it’s called non-apology apology. I really don’t like that term. It sounds too confusing, so I will just call it fake apology. Here are some of my examples of fake apologies:

1)      Apologies for the sake of excuse

When you apologize for your excuses, you are just making excuses. When does making excuses constitute as a proper apology? Never. Making excuses only serve to make your apology weak and negligent. When you make an excuse, you are putting the blame on something else. Think about this scenario: You are late for a very important meeting at work. This meeting is held once every month, but you can never make it in time. You told your boss during your first late arrival, “I’m sorry. There was a huge traffic on route 46, so I can’t make it on time.” The next month, you arrived late again claiming that your darn alarm clock did not went off. And again the next month, you claimed your car broke down. Now picture yourself as the boss. Your employee keeps arriving late each month and gives you an apology followed by an excuse. How will you feel? Can you forgive your employee after s/he kept apologizing for being late? Not likely.

Excuses in apologies are unacceptable. There is no problem in making mistakes, but there is a huge problem if you keep repeating them. What do you do when you repeat a mistake? You apologize again by making up excuses for your apology. By excusing your actions, you create an illusion that your apology is justifiable. You did absolutely nothing wrong. You should be forgiven since you apologize, right? Wrong. Using excuses in apologies can lead to mistrust in relationships with others. A proper apology never has to be repeated more than once for a single mistake. The reason is simple. You didn’t make an excuse. You took real responsibility for your apology by committing to your actions.

2)      Apologies without the intention of being sorry

If you are not sorry, then please don’t apologize. Don’t apologize even if someone forces you. Proper apologies are given from the heart regardless of outcome. If you can’t say what you are trying to imply, then don’t say anything. It is seriously frustrating when someone tries to use apologies as a disguise for personal opinions.

So you hate someone. What do you do? You say you’re sorry before you bash on him. “I’m sorry, but [insert name here] is such a dick….blah, blah, blah.” Are you seriously trying to apologize or are you trying to make a point? If you disagree with someone, please just use the term “I disagree” and then back that up with your personal opinions. Don’t hide your opinions or beliefs behind an apology. If your intention is to make a statement about something, then just make the statement. If your intention is to apologize to someone, then apologize.

If you know that your statement will offend someone, but you want to say it anyways. Then state it with reasoning. Don’t try to make yourself look like a nice person by apologizing before you say anything. “Sorry if this offends any fat people, but I think you guys really need to lose some weight. I think that it is very unhealthy for you to be in this physical condition.” Lose the “sorry” and just state what you think. It’s true that you want to come across as a genuine person who wants to help fat people, but there are literally dozens of different ways to state what I just said in a reasonable manner.

If you are indifferent, then there is even less reason to apologize. Some people prematurely apologize to not come across as an asshole. Others apologize just because they want to resolve the situation as fast as possible. If you don’t care, then why bother apologizing. Your intent isn’t there, so it surely doesn’t matter if you did or not, right?

3)      Apologies for guiltless subconscious acts

Suppose you are one of many people who apologize anytime you think you did something wrong. Imagine this scenario: You dropped a pencil on the floor (hypothetically speaking, it can be any inanimate object). A stranger comes up to you and said you dropped the pencil. You replied saying that you’re sorry. Ask yourself this question: What are you sorry for? Are you sorry that you dropped the pencil and wanted to apologize to show that everything is OK? What are you trying to prove? That you are tragically sorry about your actions? What did your actions do to the other person? Did it hurt him? How about causing him trauma? Nope, there is no problem here. You can simply say thank you. If you have a habit of apologizing for guiltless actions, then please stop. Your subconscious act is only devaluing the sincerity of a proper apology.

In our society we have people who apologize for every minor or nonexistent problem. Oh, you want the person next to you to move. But what do you say? You said you’re sorry right before you walked through them. Just say excuse me! If you are sorry for this and sorry for that, then you are not sorry at all. Do not let apologies become a form of figure of speech to you. If your everyday language involves apologizing for everything, then it is time to stop doing this. Are you compensating for something? Are you broadcasting to the world that you lack self confidence in everything you do? Please use your judgment and ask yourself the question: “Am I really sorry about what I’m doing?” before apologizing for anything. Observe your surroundings and your own consciousness. If the word “sorry” comes out subconsciously, then train yourself to not utter a word. Afterwards, slowly adapt a new word such as “pardon”, “excuse me” , or various other creative phrases from your imaginations.

Saying you’re sorry is different from being sorry. One comes from the heart and the other comes from your mouth. Don’t apologize for things you don’t intend to change for the better. Cut this habit of over apologizing for all your subconscious acts. This way, you are one step closer to learning the proper apology.

4)      Apologies for self benefits

Do you feel crappy when you wronged someone? What do you do to feel better about yourself? Do you give a hasty apology to reap the immediate benefit that you have done something right?  If your goal is to feel better, then please go take a warm shower or take a hike (pun intended). I’m sure that these two simple activities can also make you feel very good.

Giving an apology isn’t about receiving momentarily forgiveness or inflating one’s ego. It is about finding the courage to live consciously by your words and actions. How does it feel to assume that when you apologize, all must be forgiven? Doesn’t it feel great to know that simply by apologizing, you know that everything will be fine? You are a great person, and everyone should just forgive you since you always apologize for your mistakes. Life should revolve around you. Isn’t it amazing?

However, a proper apology isn’t about you. It is about the other person. If you desire immediate forgiveness because you can’t cope with the fact that you wronged someone, then you shouldn’t be apologizing in the first place. If everything is about how you feel, then surely you don’t care about how others are feeling. What happens if you apologize and the person didn’t forgive you? Now what? You must be furious because you gave an apology that isn’t accepted.

Apologies are not about relieving yourself of guilt. If that is all you are looking for, then you are going to have a bad time. Apologies are selfless, guiltless acts that require soul-wrenching actions and courage. It will be hard, but can you still do it? Can you look at yourself and say, “S/he might not forgive me, but that doesn’t deter me from making things right.” If you can overcome personal obstacles, then you can learn the benefits of being a better person.

5)      Apologies without direct confrontation.

A proper apology accounts for using the right medium for interactions. A fake apology uses the wrong medium. What constitutes as wrong medium for apology? Social media sites, technologies and other people. If you want to apologize sincerely, you must directly apologize to the other person. This means apologizing to them face to face. Otherwise you are only going to create miscommunication.

Technologies are all around us. We all have cell phones, computers, and various other gadgets. There are countless social media around the internet such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and others. These social media sites are ingrained into our culture. We use them in our daily lives. However, using any of these can lead to detrimental consequences in an apology.

When you post an apology either through a text, email, some posts on Facebook, or whatever, you are hiding behind your words. Why? You didn’t even bother with direct confrontation. Think about it. You are a coward. Why can’t you just apologize in front of the person? What reasons do you have to not to? Did you know that 93% of human communication is through body language and paralinguistic cues? With statistics like that, why even bother apologizing through social media. Can you show your true emotions through your words without misinterpretations? Without a doubt, you probably can’t.

Social media creates a limited experience. Communication is restricted to a monologue and there is no easy way to associate with the other individuals closely. How does it feel when you post an apology on the internet? What happens if everyone else can see it? Doesn’t it bother you since it will constantly remind you of what you did?  You don’t want to be seemed like a coward. A coward hides behind all the technologies or social media. Maybe the response is too dire and you can’t handle it. So you just want to put your apology out there and hope for the best. However, this is not a good solution to your problems. The only thing worse than that is using someone else to apologize for your mistake.

A Proper Apology

Let’s get directly to the point. Apologies are overrated. You have learned about overcoming fears and all the other fake apologies described above. Now, I just want to point out that an apology (using words primarily) is useless. How many times have you apologized to others? How many more times do you want to keep asking for forgiveness? I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of hearing apologies regardless of how heart-warming they sound. I propose another solution.

Instead of giving an apology, make a commitment instead. A true apology is the commitment to change for the better. If you offend someone, you commit to make sure you do not offend the same person again. When you make a mistake, you commit to prevent the same mistake from happening. The same rule applies to giving a proper apology. If you have to continuously apologize, then commit to only having to apologize once for a single, non-repeating mistake.

Commitment requires change. If you saw change as threatening to your identity, then you are not sorry in the first place. A true apology is a commitment. If you are late all the time to a meeting, then say “I commit myself to never be late again. I will wake up half an hour earlier each day than I am currently doing. I will change my schedule around so that I will go to bed early each day.” Then, back up your commitment by taking actions. Show how you have changed for the better. By stating a commitment, you are held accountable to your words. You didn’t apologize because you didn’t have to.

If you want to apologize genuinely, then that is still a possibility. There are 3 main parts to a proper apology:

I’m Sorry.

It was my fault.

What can I do to make things right.

It is as simple as that. You just have to declare your intentions and make amends. There’s no need to overcomplicate things. Assume full responsibility and take actions. This is no different from taking a commitment to change.

I want to emphasize that there are other important factors you must take into consideration when you apologize. First of all, you must consider the importance of settings. If you make someone really angry at you, it often takes time for him to heal. There is no rush in apologizing for something. You just have to use your best judgment by asking yourself 6 questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Who am I apologizing to? What am I apologizing for? When should I apologize? Where should I apologize? Why should I apologize? How should I apologize? These are very good questions you can ask yourself.

Secondly, please avoid using words like “if” and “but” in a sincere apology. The problem with using these words is that they take away the full responsibility from you. Imagine you are trying to apologize to someone. You say, “I’m sorry if you are insulted” or “I’m sorry, but I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings”. This expression serves to state the obviousness of the situation. You hurt someone. Now you apologize, saying you are sorry because you hurt him.

Finally, please remember that apologies vary in terms of seriousness for each situation. Some apologies are harder and others are easier because commitments also vary in difficulties. I mean surely it must be easier to apologize for arriving late to a meeting and making a commitment to change than it is to apologize for harming someone physically or mentally. Keep in mind that regardless of situations, apologies are going to be hard. However, don’t give up. Time is going to pass anyways, so make sure you learn to develop lasting relationships with others. After all, you only live once.