Have you ever had someone say to you that he was sorry but you knew they didn’t mean it?
It’s the worst.
There is actually a method to apologizing, and I’m going to walk you through the four steps to how to say I’m sorry.
All you want is a sincere apology and all you get is “sorry”.
You can actually learn how to say sorry and have the other person know you mean it.
I learned this a while back after listening to one of Michael Hyatt’s podcast episodes (I can’t find the episode because it was so long ago, but here’s a similar post on his site). I see this idea a lot now that I’m reading more personal development books. I just read Just Listen by Mark Goulston and he talked about apologizing in a power way so that the person knows you mean it.
All that is to say that you can actually learn how to say your sorry — it doesn’t have to be something you already knew. These steps I’m listing below will teach you how you can say sorry effectively.
So, here’s how to say “I’m sorry” the right way…
1. Say you’re sorry (show remorse) without contingencies
The first step is to take responsibility for your actions. Show remorse. Say sorry and mean it. Be direct.
Say “I’m sorry for doing XYZ.”
Do not say “I’m sorry if” or “I’m sorry you’re offended by…”.
Keep it straightforward. Say “I’m sorry I did XYZ.” When you add a contingency like “if” or “but” you take away the effectiveness of the apology. It sounds like you don’t really mean that you’re sorry. Avoid this and just say you’re sorry without adding contingencies.
Let the person respond. Don’t be defensive. Just listen.
2. Acknowledge you caused the pain
The second step is to acknowledge how you hurt the person.
Say “I’m sorry for doing XYZ. I know that I hurt you.”
By acknowledging the person’s pain, you are showing that person you are listening to him and understand that he is hurt.
People want to feel heard. It’s important you acknowledge how the other person feels when you apologize.
3. Ask for forgiveness
After you’ve sincerely apologized (steps 1 and 2), you should ask the person to forgive you.
Say “Will you please forgive me?”
You’re apologizing, so it’s up to that person whether to accept your apology. This step also shows you value the relationship you have with this person and it’s not just a one-way street. That person is part of the relationship and can decide whether to accept your apology.
4. Ask how you can make it up
After you’ve apologized and assuming the person accepts your apology, ask how you can make it up to him. By doing this, you are showing that you really do care and are sincerely sorry. You are listening to the person and asking how he wants you to make it right.
Say “How can I make it up to you?”
This apology is about being sorry and allowing the other person to set the boundaries and acceptance for making things right. It’s not about you.
It may take time for you to make it up to the person. That’s okay. Be on your best behavior and understand that you have to prove to the other person that you’re worthy of their trust. Forgiveness may come quickly but building back the trust takes time.
What You Should Not Do
And just as important as it is for you to follow the four steps above, there are some things you should not do when you apologize (a few of which I mentioned above).
When you say sorry to someone, do not do any of the following:
- Don’t say “I’m sorry if…”
- Don’t say “I’m sorry but…”
- Don’t apologize if you don’t mean it
- Don’t blame the other person
- Don’t justify your actions
All of these items weaken your apology. Instead, stick to strong, direct, honest words that show the person you are genuinely sorry.
A Final Note!
The 4-step process I listed above shows you how to say you’re sorry to someone. Here’s it listed out again for you:
- Say you’re without contingencies
- Acknowledge you caused the pain
- Ask for forgiveness
- Ask how you can make it up
It’s not fool-proof because every situation is different. Hopefully, though, it provides you with a bare-bones framework to say you’re sorry the right way.
And remember, when you are apologizing it’s so important that you mean it, are direct, and don’t use contingencies like “I’m sorry if I hurt you”.
Saying sorry can be done effectively and repair your relationship when done right.