How to Make Genuine Apologies and Why It’s Important

by Hannah Gabr

“One of the most profound human interactions is the offering and accepting of apologies. Apologies have the power to heal humiliations and grudges, remove the desire for vengeance, and generate forgiveness on the part of the offended parties. For the offender they can diminish the fear of retaliation and relieve the guilt and shame that can grip the mind with a persistence and tenacity that are hard to ignore. The result of that apology process, ideally, is the reconciliation and restoration of broken relationships.”- Aaron Lazare, On Apology

From a very young age, our caretakers tend to teach us that, when we make mistakes or cause harm to others, we apologize. As we start to grow older, we begin to realize that apologizing is a vital part of our relationships. Nobody is perfect, and most relationships will involve some unintentional or intentional harm to the other person; however, the key to being able to maintain the health of a relationship is being able to acknowledge the wrongdoing, and help ease the pain in the aftermath. Mistakes and their subsequent apologies help us learn and grow as people, while also enabling others to do the same.

Successful Elements of a Genuine Apology

  • Accepting responsibility for your action or inaction: make it clear to the other party that you are the direct cause of their distress because of your action/inaction. Make sure you listen closely to the other party’s language, for example: are they upset because you forgot about the plans you had made with them last night, or are they upset because you’ve forgot about every plan you’ve made with them for the past few months? Are they upset because you haven’t been a good friend? Encourage the friend to disclose the root of their distress and have a conversation about the issue. This will make for a more heart-felt apology and clear up any mis-communications.
  • Fix past mistakes by looking toward the future: Once you have acknowledged and taken responsibility for past mistakes, solidify the apology by explaining what you will commit to do your best to making the mistake again in the future. Don’t make promises you cannot keep, as this will cause further harm and distress. For example, offer to take your friend out for dinner as you forgot about their plans from last night. If something really is going on that is preventing you from honoring commitments, be transparent to the other party and explain to the other friend why you are having a difficult time attending engagements.
  • Realize that some actions are inexcusable: while you may be able to have genuine excuses for some things, not all actions are eligible to be excused, especially repeated actions inflicted on the same person. If it happens once, shame on me, but twice, shame on you right? The more times you inflict harm on someone, the more likely it is that your relationship could become estranged and they may not be able to really forgive you.
  • Offer reparations: Ask if there is anything they would like you to do to make it up to them. If they say no, and still seem upset and haven’t made it clear that they forgive you, then the best thing to do might be to give the person space and some time, and revisit the apology later on. If the harmful action was really severe, it may take several attempts and an unspecified long amount of time. If reparation is asked and accepted, whether it is more time together or a specific task to be done, your apology will be rejected if you fail to meet this expectation. Sincerity is important.
  • Understand that the apology could be accepted, but it could be ignored and rejected: forgiveness is a strength, and it’s not easy to forgive people. There is a power dynamic between the person giving the apology and the person receiving the apology; acknowledging your wrongdoing demonstrates vulnerability and self-awareness, but apologizing demonstrates strength and sometimes a willingness to sacrifice pride. By apologizing, you are giving the other person the power to accept it or reject it, and this within itself also creates vulnerability; however, this could also be restoring the power into its natural balance- if a person feels victimized then they often feel powerless over a situation. Restoring that power back to the person you have wronged could help remedy the situation.

Sources: Artwork by Hannah Gabr

If you liked this piece check out: Cathartic Forgiveness

Tags: Healing, Self-reflection, Empowerment