Apologizing, in Six Easy Steps

The Modern Survival Guide #6

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Step 1: Feel Actual Contrition

Understand that if you think you need to apologize to someone, you probably do. If you feel bad about doing something, an apology is probably deserved. And if someone demands an apology, they probably are correct. Not always, but most of the time.

Step 2: Pick Your Venue

A proper apology is not conducted from a position of power. You’re being humble and acknowledging culpability, not seeking to awe your audience. So do not apologize from behind a desk, or while emoting any other form of physical intimidation. If at all possible, apologize to someone face to face and at the same height level. Don’t bend down or that kind of thing — that’s just patronizing — but sitting with someone works fine.

Step 3: Pick Your Words Carefully

Apologies are all about making amends for a specific action or series of actions. They are about admitting you are wrong, period. People often mess this up.

Step 4: Watch Your Tone

As anyone who has ever raised or been a teenager knows, tone is one of the key components of communication that everyone knows is important, but no one wants to have to control. Controlling your tone is hard. Most of us use tones by instinct, and most of the time our instincts are correct in that our tones convey accurate information about our emotional state.

Step 5: Leave the Room

Once you’re done apologizing, leave. Be polite about it, but leave unless the other party is begging you to stay. You don’t have to go far — and sometimes you shouldn’t. Leaving the house after apologizing to your spouse can send the wrong message. But you usually should leave the other person alone for at least a few minutes.

Step 6: Afterward

After making an apology, and giving the recipient some time to think, you need to find out if the apology was sufficient. You can’t, ever, make the assumption that just because you apologized, now things are OK. You need to ask the other party, as directly as is tactful in the situation, whether or not you are forgiven. Now for the really tough part: if they say “no,” you have to be OK with that

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