As women, we collectively over apologize. From using it as filler to a defense to not even realizing how much we say it, the phrase “I’m sorry” is generally one I’m trying to help people remove from their language. I bet you’ve apologized more than necessary this week – or even today! – and by more than necessary, I mean when you haven’t hurt anyone, wronged them, or caused harm.
So what happens when you are at fault, it’s not filler, and you hurt someone with your behaviors or actions? Does the phrase “I’m sorry” lose its potency when you say it constantly without meaning?
Sometimes, yes, that’s exactly what happens. That’s when an authentic apology matters.
It’s not easy to apologize – and some of us don’t even realize we make non-apologies all the time. In this case, it’s more than fillers. We could truly be in a moment when we have harmed someone or hurt their feelings in some way. Take a moment and think: have you said, “I’m sorry you feel that way”?
That’s not an apology – it doesn’t take ownership of the cause. It also is putting all of the responsibility on the person who is feeling terrible, which makes it sort of the opposite of an apology. Real apologies have two core parts – remorse and acknowledgment. You need to show regret or guilt about your actions that cause pain, and you need to own that it was indeed your actions that caused the pain.
Sounds complicated, right? It’s a lot more than a simple “I’m sorry” that sounds more like a cast-off. For the times you truly need to – and want to! – apologize, here are a few tips to make it stick and resonate with the person you’ve harmed:
I mentioned remorse as a foundational part of an authentic apology, and that’s no exception here. When you are apologizing, you need to show true remorse for what you’ve done. That means it can’t be a flippant “Sorry” when you hurt someone close to you! You have to mean it.
Own. What. You. Did. This is why “I’m sorry you feel this way” is a terrible apology. If you think they are wrong, take a moment and step back. See if you are actually “right” or just indignant or mad you got caught.
Then, when you realize that you have to and want to apologize, take responsibility for it. “I’m sorry I made you feel this way” is a much stronger apology than the earlier mentioned terrible apology.
You’re offering an action to right the wrong – think about the phrase “actions speak louder than words.” Maybe you’ve offered to “make it right” or even a specific action to make things better (if you can – hurt feelings take time, and gestures often feel a bit empty!). Be sure to not just do something because you feel like you have to – empty gestures aren’t effective in authentic apologies. If you make amends with a gesture that you don’t intend on seeing through, you’ll run the risk of upsetting someone all over again – and the need to apologize for real this time.
Are you apologizing for something preventable? Can you promise not to do it again? Like before, actions speak louder than words, and you’ll have to put effort into rebuilding the trust that was broken in the first place, but whatever you can do to start that process to move forward is generally a good move.
Finally, remember that you cannot make someone forgive you – that’s on them and their time. All you can do is mean what you say and own the wrong.