How to Apologize so Your Apology is Accepted

Do you owe someone an apology?... and you need some pointers on how to apologize?

Perhaps you said the wrong words, or did the wrong deed. The chart below shows a sampler of words and actions that people may take offense to and expect an apology. As you move from the yellow to the red zone, recovery is much more difficult, you may not be forgiven. Still, you need to find ways to apologize.

Need to Apologize

Notice that the chart shows deeds and words in isolation. If you repeat any of the offending behaviors, you increase the intensity of the problem and the need to apologize. Red Zone.

As an example, if you recently offended X by accident, you are likely in the yellow zone where a meaningful and sincere apology will patch the relationship up. However, if you've repeatedly offended X, even if it is by accident, you'll have moved to the red zone, where recovery will be quite hard.

Whatever color you find yourself in, keep in mind the Power of Apologizing.

Ways to Apologize

Independently of you got yourself in a tight spot, here's how to apologize in a sincere and authentic way.

1. Mean the apology. If you're not ready to apologize, don’t even try it, because you'll appear phony and perhaps make things worse. Skip the following steps and instead click here to read about the power of apologizing to heal broken relationships.

2. Apologize as soon as possible after the offending act or words.

3. Apologize face to face. If that's not possible, make a phone call, use email as last resort.

4. If you offended the person in front of others, then apologize to the person in front of the same others. In other words, eat some dirt.

5. Acknowledge to the person that what you did or said was wrong and that you're sorry for having said it or done it.

6. Avoid justifying your behavior by shifting blame to anybody or anything. Don’t blame having a few drinks, or the traffic, or someone pushing you to do anything. You risk ruining the entire apology if you try to point fingers in any direction other than yours. Even when there are legitimate reasons for your unwanted behavior, apologize for the part that was your responsibility. Let’s use an example. You were late to an important meeting. You cannot blame your ADD, or the traffic, or an accident on the road. If the meeting was important, you needed to take extra time to make sure you would make it on time. So you let the people in the meeting know that there was an accident on the road but that you failed to plan for that eventuality, and you apologize for your failure to plan ahead.

7. Promise to clean up your act so you don’t make the same mistake in the future. You have to mean this as well. If you're not going to try harder, then stay clear of empty promises.

8. When you are done apologizing, be quiet and listen, because you will need to know where you stand. Whether your apology has been accepted or rejected, just thank the person and move the conversation along. Don’t beat it to death.

These steps show you how to apologize, follow them and you are likely to restore the goodwill in the relationship that is at risk.