Say You’re Sorry

Woman looking out of window contemplating

Say You’re Sorry

“Is it too late now to say sorry?” asked Justin Bieber. Well, Biebs, you’re in luck. No, it is not, in fact, too late to say you’re sorry. However, before you do, I am offering you some advice to make sure that apology goes as well as possible.

I have recently witnessed just how awful people are at apologizing. And the reasons behind our sorry apology skills (forgive me, I couldn’t help myself!) are multifaceted. It could be that our egos get in the way - after all, don’t we hate being wrong? And an apology is essentially admitting we were somehow wrong. Perhaps we are unsure what we did wrong, or we don’t understand how what we said or did was offensive, after all, we didn’t mean it like that. Nonetheless, the first step is to decide how important the relationship is to you. If the person or relationship is important, is it worth at least apologizing for a misunderstanding so that you can move forward with the relationship? If it is, here are some suggestions for that apology.

In terms of a solid apology, it is best to try and figure out where things went wrong. Was there something specific that was said or done that caused hurt? Or is it more general? If you can point out specifically what you did that hurt the other person, it demonstrates that you not only acknowledge the person’s feelings and the hurt, but also you take ownership of your role in causing it. This kind of acknowledgement and ownership illustrates your understanding, empathy, and sensitivity. Such a level of understanding suggests the possibility that the mistake is less likely to happen again in the future, which is a positive predictor of improving and strengthening your relationship.

Once you have narrowed down what wrong was done, it is critical to pick the proper time and place to share your apology. The Real Housewives in every city are notorious for doing this poorly. For example, they often choose someone’s birthday or special event to bring up old wounds in front of a large group. And then they wonder why it blows up. Hmm. Go ahead and follow their beauty tricks, but let’s take a lesson from them and do things differently in the relationship department. Identify a time and place when you and the other person will be able to talk one-on-one and be in a more relaxed environment. Where the Housewives seem to go wrong is that the person needing to resolve the situation feels her own anxiety or frustration over the situation so much that it overrides the other person’s needs. That just creates something else that will require a future apology. So, in sum, when you are taking someone’s needs into consideration enough to apologize, make sure you consider his or her needs in the delivery of that apology.

Next, keep your apology simple. This is not the time for a lengthy explanation, which just weakens your apology. There are a few essentials to include: (1) you understand you hurt this person; (2) you realize that what you said or did was wrong/inappropriate/went awry; (3) you feel badly that you caused the hurt; and (4) you intend to do better in the future. If you have any trouble with the structure of your apology, you can always go with: “I understand that I hurt you. I’m terribly sorry, as that was never my intention. I will be more careful in the future as you and our relationship are important to me.” Now, was that so bad? If you can master the art of the apology, your relationships will benefit. Now we will have to wait and see who the Biebs apologizes to next and if he takes my advice. I’ll keep watching The Ellen Show to find out.

© Copyright 2016 Ashley Curiel, PsyD, therapist in Beverly Hills, California. All rights reserved.