I think everyone has a little bit of a pride problem. No really—everyone! The reason I think that is that I’ve recently realized that I don’t know a single person who finds it easy to say these two little words: I’m sorry. It’s hard, isn’t it?! Even if you KNOW you’re wrong, something in you chokes the words in your throat, willing them to stay inside like an indestructible force. Pride has us convinced that everything is always someone else’s fault, so the last thing we ever want to say is that we were wrong and we’re sorry about that.
But sometimes, when we’re very brave, we do the right thing. We swallow that beastly pride and force the words out like a champ. But then sometimes, even then, we still get it wrong. I think in our minds we think, “Okay, fine, I’ll apologize and just get it over with,” and then we’re so proud of ourselves for being big enough to say it that we don’t check to make sure the apology was made in the appropriate way.
Here are a few reminders to help you make an acceptable apology when necessary. And at least a few times in your life, it WILL be necessary. We all goof sometimes, but the apology is the difference between hurt feelings that last forever and a little mistake that everyone’s long forgotten.
1. Don’t say it unless you mean it.
Don’t be one of those jerks that only ever apologizes like this, “I’m sorry IF I hurt your feelings,” “I’m sorry YOU took it that way,” or “I’m sorry, BUT if YOU hadn’t done what YOU did then maybe I wouldn’t have….” You get the idea. You’re only making the situation worse if you continue to play the blame game by attempting to incriminate the other person instead of just offering a clean “I’m sorry I was wrong.” Make the apology as humble and clean-cut as possible. Try not to ramble on about why you did what you did or said what you said.
2. Don’t say it until you mean it.
Don’t allow yourself to, in a fit of rage over being criticized or rebuked, yell or whine, “I’m SORRY, OKAY?!” Don’t apologize until you’ve had time to reflect on it calmly and rationally. And if the person you’ve wronged wants to talk about it, by all means, let them talk about it and listen humbly. Otherwise, your apology will seem cheap and insincere.
3. Remember that you don’t get to make the rules.
If you’re the one who’s in the wrong, and you realize you need to apologize, remember that you don’t get to make the rules about how the other person should respond to that. If you’ve hurt someone unnecessarily, you don’t get to scold them for not receiving your apology exactly like you think they should. When they don’t feel like joking and laughing and being your BFF again right away, you don’t get to be angry at them and say something like, “I SAID I was sorry!!!” Sometimes it takes people a while to stop being upset, especially if you’ve insulted them or betrayed their trust. You don’t get to put a time limit on how long they’re allowed to be upset. Sometimes, you just have to apologize, and then give the person time and space to try to get over it. If you want to make the situation a million times worse, you’ll get this one wrong by telling the other person how they ought to respond to you.
4. The size of the apology should reflect the size of the mistake.
Your apology should be as big as your blunder. For example, the way you apologize when you bump into someone on the sidewalk should be a lot different than the way you apologize when you’ve accidentally run over someone’s cherished pet with your car. If you’ve deeply hurt someone, don’t shortchange him or her by offering a half apology (e.g. “Sorry for whatever I did wrong”), and try not to do it over the internet, if you can help it. If it warrants an in-person apology, do it in person, so they can see the sincerity in your eyes and hear the genuine tones of your voice.
5. Blink first.
My dad always taught me that in conflict resolution, you should remember how as kids we used to have staring contests to see who could keep their eyes open without blinking the longest. Then he would always say in reference to conflict with adults, “when both of you are wrong, and both of you should apologize, you blink first.” In other words, don’t be so stubborn that you can’t admit your own faults before the other person admits his or hers. Blink first. If you try to wait until they ‘fess up first, you could both be waiting forever, and your relationship will never be the same. Take the high road. Blink first. Almost always, the other person will make things right when they see you’re willing to do so on your end.
6. If you’ve sinned against another person, remember you’ve sinned against God.
Even if you’ve made a stellar apology full of genuine sincerity and humility, you’re not done until you’ve made it right with God. Make sure you ask His forgiveness if you’ve wronged someone so that the matter can truly be mended—at least as far as you’re concerned. You can’t change the other person, but you can always do something about you. In Romans 12:18, God said through Paul, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
We’ve all received chintzy apologies before, which is why I think this article will resonate with a few readers. I hope this article helps you think through what you’re about to say when you realize you owe someone an apology. It’s no small matter, and it’s something we should never take lightly. If you’ve messed up, go make it right today. Truly right.