Tendering a genuine apology when an apology is due can go a long way to repair a disconnection following a fight. Here's how to apologize wisely and well.
The next time you offer an apology--or, you're on the receiving end of an apology that doesn't cut it-- remember this:
1. A true apology needs to be sincere.It should not be a quick way to get out of a predicament or a fight.
2. A true apology does not include the word “but” (“I’m sorry, but …”). “But” automatically cancels out an apology, and nearly always introduces a criticism or excuse.
3. A true apology keeps the focus on your actions—and not on the other person’s response. For example, “I’m sorry that you felt hurt by what I said at the party last night” is not an apology. Try instead, “I’m sorry about what I said at the party last night. It was insensitive and uncalled for.” Own your behavior and apologize for it—period.
4. A true apology doesn’t get caught up in who is to blame and who started it. Maybe you’re only 14% to blame and the other person provoked you. It can still help to simply say, “I’m sorry for my part in this.”
5. A true apology does not demand or request forgiveness. Of course, you hope that the other person will forgive you. But a true apology does not ask the other person to do anything—not even to forgive. Also a serious hurt or betrayal requires repair work over time, and is never healed simply by saying “I’m sorry.”
6. A true apology requires that you do your best to avoid a repeat performance. Obviously, it doesn’t help to apologize with a grand flourish and then continue the very behavior you are apologizing for, Passionate expressions of remorse are empty if you don’t put sincere effort into ensuring that there is no repeat performance.
Postscript; if the other person is an entrenched non-apologizer, don’t get into tug of war about it. Some people cannot or will not apologize. He or she may have another way of re-connecting after a fight, show you he’s in new place and wants to move on.
Accept the olive branch however it’s offered. Focus on becoming a “good apologizer” yourself and model the behavior you want to see in others.
Take the high road. It’s hard. And it’s worth it.