How to Apologize

We apologize in everyday life by saying “Sorry.” When it matters, “sorry” is not enough. When does it matter? When something comes between you and someone you love.

Ask for a moment with that relative or friend. Take the time and make the effort to set up a face-to-face meeting. Anything less does not work half as well to improve a relationship. Then, follow these steps.

Step 1: Discover

Discovery is learning how your friend processes what you did: how your actions occur to them. This is hard, but necessary for the next steps. Ask questions like “What was that like for you?” and “How did you react to that?” Listen attentively to how your friend feels, how he communicates that feeling, and what actions or words on your part created those feelings. Once you know for sure, Discovery is complete.

Step 2: Recount

This is harder than Step 1. You must now describe, in the deepest detail you can manage, everything you just learned about how your friend experienced your actions or words. You must have a complete understanding before you start this, otherwise you could end up worse off if you describe their perspective incorrectly. You must also accept their perspective as valid. Describing their point of view with the attitude of a child will likewise only serve to damage your relationship. Be thorough and be genuine.

Step 3: Settle

This is the hardest step of all. Renouncing our own actions is never easy, and it is especially hard when face-to-face. Incidentally, without this step, everything you’ve done so far will have been for nothing.

The formula here is simple: say that what you did and said were wrong, then ask: “Will you please forgive me?”

I’ve only ever received one answer to that question. That is probably because most people never bother to apologize correctly.

Apologizing is never easy. But so many of the hard, uncomfortable conversations that we avoid are the very ones that will make our lives better. Uncomfortable or awkward are just synonyms for real.

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