What Makes a Good Apology?

Everybody makes mistakes, and everybody does things that they later wish they hadn’t. Simply saying you are sorry isn’t enough to heal a wounded relationship when you mess up and hurt someone you love. You must find a way to convey sincerity or the apology won’t be accepted as meaningful. New York Times bestselling author Gary Chapman and therapist Jennifer Thomas asked thousands of people what makes an apology successful, and they learned five steps that work.

Taking these steps can be tough when a quarrel was heated and you think you are totally right. But if you’ve caused pain, you’ll want to rebuild trust. A successful apology can cool down arguments and strengthen valued relationships with friends and family. An apology that’s accepted as sincere can rekindle love that’s been shattered. There’s power in meaningful apologies.

If you wonder whether your apology will have a good chance of acceptance, you should observe the kind of apology the recipient usually gives, according to the two authors of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. They’ll be likely to respond favorably to receiving the kind of meaningful apology they extend.

Express regret.

Of course, you’re going to say you regret that your behavior hurt someone, but you’ll have to do more than just mutter the word “Sorry.” Tell them exactly what you’re sorry for, or they won’t hear you acknowledging that you know what you did.

Accept responsibility.

The second step is actually accepting responsibility for your behavior. Tell them you were wrong, and you know you should not have said that or done that. An apology that leaves out assumption of responsibility lacks sincerity for some people.

Offer to make restitution.

You need to offer to do something to make everything all right. Ask how you can make it up to them.

Express your desire to change.

Genuinely repenting goes beyond expressing regret. Clearly say you don’t want to repeat your behavior. Finding forgiveness is impossible if you’re doing the same thing over and over again without making an effort to change.

Request forgiveness.

You have to actually ask for forgiveness. Some people feel that if you stop short of this step and don’t request forgiveness, you haven’t apologized.

“We believe that when we all learn to apologize—and when we understand each other’s apology language—we can trade in tired excuses for honesty, trust and joy,” the authors say in the foreword to their book. “All of us are painfully aware of the conflict, division, anger and strife in the world today…What would the world be like if we all learned to apologize effectively?”

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