Pretending you are sorry when you are not is like trying to find your way home through a dark cave. There is a single bright light in the cave and the sound of running water.
You can see a few hands holds on the walls and you are running toward the light, but you have no idea where it is coming from or if you will ever make it to the light.
This is not going to be easy. You may trip and fall and fall on your face. You may trip on a rock in the dark and lose your footing and fall headlong into a wall.
The problem is that you are trying to navigate this cave by trial and error. There are thousands of little twists and turns that you didn’t expect.
You didn’t know how long it was going to take to get back to the light and the sound of running water. The problem is you have no idea how to get yourself out of this situation.
You don’t have a map. The cave is not a straight line.
Whether you’ve just said something that pushed someone’s buttons, or you made them feel scared or hurt by something you said, being able to say you’re sorry and mean is such an important part of maintaining healthy relationships.
It’s easy to say you’re sorry to someone when you’re not really sorry, or when you feel like you have no other choice.
So let’s go through a few tips on the best way to truly apologize when you know you’ve been wrong.
Tip 1: Make sure you’re sorry in the first place
First, do you really feel like you are sorry? Is this a sincere apology?
If not, chances are, you’re just trying to soften the blow, or get out of trouble.
In those situations, I’d recommend that you take a step back and reflect on what you’re apologizing for — really think about what you want to apologize for.
If you don’t actually feel that it’s a true apology, then it’s not going to do anything to help your relationship.
And if you’re sorry, but not sure how sincere you are about it, take a moment to stop and ask yourself if the other person actually thinks you’re sorry. Is there something you’re sorry about?
For example, if you’re sorry about accidentally saying something offensive, but you actually think that you’re not sorry about it at all — you’re just saying it to make a point or avoid a confrontation — that’s not a true apology.
If you genuinely mean it when you apologize, but you don’t really feel like you actually did anything wrong, that’s not really an apology.
Tip 2: Get specific
After you’ve made sure you’re actually sorry and you don’t feel like you were actually wrong in the first place, it’s time to figure out what you actually want to apologize for.
Be specific about what it is that you feel really hurt them. Then let them know that you realize this is unacceptable, and you want to try and make it right.
If you’re serious about it, or the person you’re apologizing to isn’t going to let you take back what you said, or how you made them feel, then chances are, you’ve actually done something wrong.
Remember that it’s not about doing enough or apologizing for everything, but rather it’s about doing enough of something so that the other person knows you actually care and you really mean it.
Tip 3: Say sorry with acknowledge
Most people don’t just apologize with a quick apology and then move on.
They don’t just go into the next conversation saying, “By the way, you know that time I spoke with the CEO and called you stupid, right?”
I can tell you from personal experience, this doesn’t go over too well and doesn’t really fix anything. You need to take the apology seriously.
People can’t believe you don’t see the seriousness of what you said — the bigger problem is that you’re not hearing how much they’re upset about it.
You need to admit to them that you were wrong, and show them that you understand why they feel the way they do.
Or, if you really are sorry about what you said, say, “I’m sorry that I offended you.”
If you want to get really fancy with it, you can add, “You really mean a lot to me. I’m really sorry.”
This kind of thing shows that you actually care and that you’re genuinely thinking about what they said.
Tip 4: Don’t mention the matter again
Part of the reason you’re apologizing in the first place is that it made you feel bad.
You can’t pretend like it didn’t happen and then two weeks later, announce your friend, “I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry for that thing I said.”
You’re telling them that you want to pretend like the whole thing never happened, even though you should really feel bad about it.
If they bring it up, you’ll have to answer, and chances are, you’ll still be upset about it.
So instead, you can simply let them know that you’re sorry, but don’t mention the matter again.
You don’t have to use words like “apology” or “apologize” in every single apology you make.
You can take things more by intention and not my intention.