10 Ways to Apologize Like an Adult

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If Justin Bieber can make a hit song about apologizing you can say sorry too. We all experience a time in our lives at some point where we must swallow our pride and apologize. Identifying that we are wrong in a situation makes us feel uncomfortable and shameful. No one ever wants to feel as if they have disappointed a friend, co worker, parent or even a pet. You’d be surprised how many tactics there are in crafting a genuine apology. It’s a good thing considering apologizing like you mean it is just one key lesson in adulting.

Here’s how to apologize like a true #adult.

1. Actually say the words “I’m sorry.”

A lot of the time we may try to dance around the situation and not actually say the two short words. Confronting someone makes us feel weird and ashamed. No one will get mad for you apologizing after a little mess up. If you have a little fight with your roommate over text, wait to see them in person to apologize. Texting an apology is okay, but saying it in person can really make the person believe your sincerity. But after that, be open to the discussion that’ll follow. “One-quarter of an apology is owning your mistake. The other three-quarters is listening, now that you’ve opened the door to conversation,” said American University communications professor Jeremiah Patterson. Also, saying sorry in person will clear up any awkward tension quickly and effectively.

2. Thank the person after your apology.

The first step to apologizing usually includes saying the words “I’m sorry,” and another is explaining what happened. That one time you accidentally deleted a spreadsheet at your internship, say something like “I am so sorry I deleted the spreadsheet. I know we are on a time crunch today because our client is visiting soon so I meant to edit it with a shortcut.” Then ask what to do from there and thank them afterwards. For instance, “Let me know can I do to fix the situation onward, and thank you for your patience thus far in my internship process.” Here, you did not make any excuses or justify why what you did was not a problem. Your boss will appreciate the effort and recognize the maturity in your response to a mistake.

3. When all else fails, show empathy.

Maybe someone overheard you talking smack about a girl in your sorority, it got back to her and she is threatening to disaffiliate because of your remarks. Yes, a dramatic situation but you can fix it— at least if you’re willing to apologize like an adult. “The best thing you can do is say ‘I really messed up.’ And then stop. Listen to the other person. Ask how it made them feel. Chances are the other party really just wants to have their feelings validated and understood. You have to shut up in order to do that,” said Patterson. Try to connect with them by making them understand that you’ve also been in a similar situation. Tell them a story of when someone said something about you and how awful it made you feel— in other words, ensure them you have felt the same way before. What wins them over ends up as the empathy card. Try to relate to them and make sure you understood how they felt.

4. Tell the person how you can prevent a situation from happening again.

No one likes a repeat offender. If you constantly ditch a friend for your hookup buddy or never answer anyone’s important text messages, you may be on the road to the no friend zone. You’ll find ways to ensure that you will never make the same mistake again. Exhibit A: Explain exactly what you did wrong and apologize. Tell them how much you appreciate them. “And after [the] apology, understand that you’re trying to do your best not to repeat your actions. Too many people just say ‘I’m sorry’ and go right back to doing whatever they just apologized for. To me, ‘I’m sorry’ means both ‘I messed up’ and ‘I’m really going to try not to do that anymore,’” said Patterson. This friend will wake up and give you another shot. They’ll realize how important your friendship is and that flaky friends typically do not apologize like adults.

5. Do not justify your behavior.

Many times when we are wrong in a situation we try to explain our point of view. But don’t do that. “The worst thing you can do is say ‘I’m sorry…’ and then say ‘but…’ — filling in the blank with some excuse as to why you did what you did,” said Patterson. Instead of trying to explain yourself in a defensive manner, try to explain your good intentions… only after you apologize, of course. Explain to them how sorry you are about not inviting them. You can even throw in a “how can I make it up to you?” This shows that you knew what was going on and did nothing to change it— aka you were in the wrong. But importantly, you’re making an effort to change the behavior and not justify why your mistake was okay. “I’ve seen a lot of people blame the other person immediately after the words ‘I’m sorry,’ as if to say I wouldn’t be apologizing for what I did if you wouldn’t have provoked me in this way.’ That’s not an apology, that’s an accusation. Learn the difference,” said Patterson.

6. Apologize and Move On.

Maybe you told off the group chat and singled someone out. You may not think this is a big deal but this person you verbally assaulted may be unwilling to accept an apology. You can always say “I am so sorry I spoke to you that way, and you did not deserve that. I’m embarrassed about what I said.” But here I’d put the ball in their court instead of begging for forgiveness. They might not answer at all. “This world is a lot smaller than we think. In my industry, everyone knows everyone else. Or they’ve probably worked together. So those connections are a lot more valuable intact than burnt to the ground over pride and a lack of empathy. If you mess up, own it and move on,” said Patterson. If they don’t want to accept it, that’s on them. You may be upset in losing a friends but at least you had the decency and maturity to try and fix the situation. A for effort.

7. Saying sorry once should cut it.

Some people may not like you saying sorry over and over again. People usually want to forget a fight or confrontation, so profusely apologizing simply annoys them. Do apologize to them effectively as soon as possible like this: “I am so sorry I couldn’t make it to your grandma’s funeral. I was out of town that week for school.” But don’t go up to them at a bar after apologizing once and drunkenly say “I apologize again for missing your granny’s funeral, I loved her so much I’m so sad for you.” The first apology should cut it and will probably make the person feel better. Keep in mind that with more apologies comes less sincerity. If you keep apologizing the meaning will lessen each time and will surely annoy the other party. It’s never a bad idea to maybe ask how the person is doing. But if done right, one apology should do the trick.

8. Remind them of your friendship or bond.

It may seem like a weird way to beg for forgiveness but reminding someone of friendship and all of the good times together can work. When mistakes are made, trust suffers. By apologizing and following up with a reminder allows someone to not only realize you’re sorry but remember what kind of relationship they have with you. Talk about how you two have been friends since grade school and you wouldn’t want a simple fight about accidentally ripping their favorite designer shirt ruin all the memories you’ve had for over ten years. A bit of nostalgia brings trust back into a relationship.

9. Be direct and don’t avoid it.

Do not dance around explaining your mistake. This will piss off the other person and make you look immature for not owning up to your faults. Instead, clearly state what happened and what you are doing to fix it. “The longer you wait to apologize and the more time that passes, the bigger the issue becomes. At that point, you have to explain the time gap in addition to the apology itself. It’s a snowball effect.” said Patterson. The other person will usually be understanding if you are direct and give a plan of action to fix an issue. Even if you don’t understand why you did something or your behavior is unjustifiable, being direct and owning up to your actions gets you far more respect for being honest with yourself and the other person.

10. Take the apology seriously.

“It’s hard to apologize — it goes against our nature in a lot of ways because we like to be right and we like to feel like our feelings are right. So admitting that you’re wrong and admitting that you’re going to put your own feelings aside to understand and appreciate and make room for someone else’s… well… that’s just plain hard to do,” Patterson explained. No matter how much you want to burst out laughing or give a cheeky smile, hold back and be serious. They will take your apology more seriously if you quit the jokes and get down to business. It may feel hard at first, but practicing what you want to say beforehand can take away some pre apology jitters.

I am a senior at American University studying broadcast journalism. One day I hope to be the next Kim Kardashian, but better (sorry Kim). In my free time I enjoy singing Karaoke and walking on the StairMaster. I love pizza, aliens, and Kanye West. I am originally from the Jersey Shore so the rest about me is self explanatory.

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