As I write, the sun is setting to mark the end of the Jewish high holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Prominent themes of the holiday include reflection, asking for forgiveness and making amends. Regardless of your belief system, these are healthy and often cathartic exercises. But how does one properly ask for forgiveness? The cornerstone is apology.
An effective apology is more than just saying “I’m sorry.” Here are some steps to a successful apology.
1) Mean It. An apology must be sincere to be truly effective. To mean it, you’ll need some time to reflect on what happened. You must come to understand what you did wrong in the situation and how it affected the other person.
2) Own It. You need to take responsibility for your error and the ramifications, and you need to name them specifically in your apology. “I’m sorry I was late with my part of the project. I understand that makes you rush with your work.”
3) Don’t Dilute It. Never add “if” or “but” to your apology. Never point the finger at the other person’s feelings. “I’m sorry if my actions hurt your feelings” is not a strong and effective apology.
4) Correct It. You must make amends for your error. “I’m sorry I was late for the movie and caused us to have lousy seats. I’d like to take you to the theater this Saturday and make sure we get there in plenty of time.” Apologizing and then repeating the behavior undermines the apology and can undermine your credibility for future apologies.
5) Keep It Simple. This is not the time to rehash everything that happened or otherwise explain yourself. Just state what you did wrong, the ramifications, and how you will correct it.
6) Practice It. Whether you write it down, role play with a friend, or just have an imaginary conversation in your head (yes, we all do that), you need to be prepared. This apology is important. Take the time to be prepared.
7) Stick It Out. Having your apology practiced will help you stick to your simple message, even if the person to whom you are apologizing reacts with anger, sadness, or frustration. You are apologizing because you know that you have injured this person. It’s quite possible that talking about that injury, even in the context of an apology, can be uncomfortable for both of you. Be ready to stick it out if you get dished some heat.
8) Wait It Out. Just because you are ready to apologize, doesn’t mean that he’s ready to forgive. It’s reasonable to ask for forgiveness when you apologize, but it may take the other person some time before she can forgive you. She may never forgive you. Even if she doesn’t, making a sincere apology is an important part of forgiving yourself. A well-considered, genuine, and well-constructed apology is much more likely to lead to forgiveness – even if it takes a while.
So, take a little time to reflect and consider if you have hurt or offended anyone lately. Maybe it’s time to apologize.