You are asked to look after a friend’s meal while they answer the door. The meal sits on a coffee table. Your dog enters the room and scoffs your friend’s dinner. Your friend returns to find no dinner and a contented dog.
In this instance you owe an apology.
Step 1. Use the words, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I was wrong’ or ‘I apologise’. These are important words. They establish a tone of respect and concern.
Step 2. Confess the crime. It is important for the other person to know that you know.
This is the hardest bit. Let the person know you have taken the trouble to search for what went wrong. Don’t explain away your actions. Don’t mention that the other person was at fault as well. Look only at your own behaviour.
‘I am sorry, but —’ Wrong. Do not use the word ‘but’.
‘I should not have trusted Jill. She told me the dog was outside.’ Wrong. You are indirectly blaming Jill.
‘I was negligent. I did not ensure the dog was outside, and it ate your dinner.’ Correct.
Step 3. Indicate that you understand the consequences of your actions.
‘I realise you are hungry —’
‘I understand that you have been hurt —’
‘I realise it would be upsetting —’
Step 4. Give the apology.
‘I apologise for not being careful with my dog.’
‘I am sorry because —’
‘I sincerely regret that I . . . and apologise for it.’
The recipient should feel you are taking full responsibility for what happened.
Step 5. Tell the person you are taking steps to ensure it does not happen again.
Explain the steps.
‘I will from now on place your dinner where the dog can’t reach it.’
‘I will be taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. First, I will be —’
Let the person know that their concerns are being taken seriously and are being addressed. That is important to them and it will aid reconciliation considerably.
There are pluses for you: If you do in future take steps to avoid problems you will become more competent. You will become proficient at seeing potential problems and avoiding them. You will end up being more trusted.
Step 6. Ask the person how you can make amends.
‘What can I do to improve the situation?’
‘How can I make amends?’
‘May I cook you a dinner?’
The person’s requests need to be reasonable. Some people might try to take advantage of your superb apology because they think you have relinquished your power. You have not. On the contrary, by taking responsibility for the incident you have empowered yourself. Use that power to negotiate a fair resolution.
Step 7. Don’t ask for forgiveness. The person is aware of the concept and can make that decision without your prompting. (If you must ask, declare you would like their forgiveness, but don’t wait for a response. Don’t wait for ‘Yes, I forgive you.’)
Don’t expect an outcome. Do not expect to be forgiven. Your apology is not contingent on you being forgiven. You are giving an apology solely to express sincere regret. If the other person chooses to not forgive you, that’s their decision. They don’t even have to tell you their decision. It’s none of your business.
But let the other person respond. Don’t, for example, immediately leave the room.
The other person might take hours, or days to get back to you. If at all. When they do, don’t say anything that might negate or diminish your apology. Listen to them and put yourself in their shoes. Your job is to understand how they felt about the incident, or how they felt about your apology, not set them straight.
Step 8. Aim to let the incident go. Don’t punish yourself. If you have been sincere, and will be ensuring the incident does not happen again, and if you have done your best to rectify the problem, then you are on the right path and that’s good enough. Don’t dwell on the matter. Everyone makes blunders. This was your turn.
‘I apologise.’ (The key word.)
‘I negligently let my dog steal your dinner.’ (Confess the crime.)
‘I realise you are hungry, and angry.’ (Acknowledge the consequences)
‘I apologise for not being careful with my dog.’ (Give the apology.)
‘I will from now on ensure the dog is outside when we eat.’ (Explain your preventative steps.)
‘In what way can I make amends? May I cook your dinner?’ (Rectify the situation.)
A troublesome student to her teacher:
‘Dear Miss Cohen,
I am sorry for my prank. It was wrong. I did not intend to hurt your feelings, I just wanted to get a laugh, but it was a cheap laugh and it was at your expense. I was wrong to do that.
I realise my prank upset you and I am sorry that it did. I apologise. I wish I had not done it. I will not do a prank like that in the future. I will consider the person’s feelings first.
Please let me know if there is a way I can make amends.
The student giving the apology has:
– said she was sorry,
– explained what happened and why it was wrong
– displayed remorse,
– given the formal apology.
– has promised to not do it again,
– has offered to make amends.
Would you like to avoid making a mistake? Try: ‘How to give a lousy apology‘.