5 Steps To A Genuine Apology


Editor’s Note: Originally posted February 9, 2009.
The words “I’m sorry, I apologize, and Forgive me” are so easily said that they’ve lost their meaning.
Ever get an apology that left you wondering whether or not the person apologizing had a clue about what hurt your feelings?
Or maybe you were shaking your head, thinking, “I see your lips moving, but I don’t believe what you’re saying.”
And if you were the one giving the apology, did you ever walk away thinking, “I don’t know why I bother to say I’m sorry – you don’t believe me anyway!”
Both people might think, Well, I’m glad we went through the motions, but I don’t think that that “I’m sorry” or “Please forgive me” changes anything.
So what’s the difference between the same old same old, “I’m sorry, I apologize, or Forgive Me” and a genuine apology? In the real deal, both the offended and the offender walk away feeling

  • heard and validated,
  • accountable and responsible,
  • competent and confident.

In a genuine apology, the words take on new meaning as they are lived, more than spoken.

Here’s the 5 steps to the real deal, a genuine apology.

  1. Describe the event (WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE)
  2. Yesterday when we were in the car (where), you (who) were telling me how you handled a situation at work (what) . . .

  3. Tell what you did and describe the action
  4. . . . and I said, in a sarcastic manner (how I acted) that I thought the way you handled the situation was stupid (what I did). I want you to know that I was rude to use such a harsh word as stupid. It was judgmental of me to think that I knew better how to handle that situation at your work. I think that speaking to you in a sarcastic manner was disrespectful and contemptuous and not the way I want to treat you.

  5. Acknowledge the damage done
  6. I know that it hurt you for me to label your actions as stupid and to speak to you in a sarcastic manner. I know that my thoughtless words reflected a lack of confidence in your abilities and my sarcastic tone was unkind and necessary.

  7. Tell what you wish you had done instead
  8. I wish that I had been more thoughtful and kind and chosen my words more carefully. I wish I had talked about the many school situations you have handled successfully.

  9. Tell what you PLAN to do differently the next time.
  10. The next time you are telling me about something that happens at work, I plan to listen better, ask more questions, and choose my words carefully. I plan to focus on my knowledge of your strengths. And I commit to you my intent to speak to you in a manner that reflects how much I care for you and about our relationship.

When you’re the offender, you hold yourself accountable for your actions by responsibly describing the event and your offensive actions, and you validate that you understand the hurt those actions caused. You then demonstrate your competence by letting your spouse know that you thought about what would have worked better in that situation. And you build confidence that you mean it when you lay out a plan do what you wish you had done the next time the same thing happens.
Your spouse gets to hear an objective description of the event and the offense – (WWWWH – Who, What, When, Where, and How)- validation of the hurt felt, along with your thinking about what might have worked. You inspire confidence in a different future outcome in both your spouse and, just as important, in yourself by creating a plan of action.
You need to be responsible for you and your spouse needs to be responsible for them.

  • You do not need to plead for your spouse to restore your sense of self by either asking (begging) for forgiveness or to accept your apology. You are forgiving yourself by holding yourself accountable to your spouse while taking full responsibility for your actions, and committing to act differently.
  • Your spouse does not sacrifice themselves by accepting an apology that is incomplete, insincere, or without a commitment to future change (true repentance). Your spouse can accept the apology, or not, or they can state what is still missing. They have the option to wait and see. They don’t have to fold because you apologized and you don’t have to wilt in exile until they accept.

The real deal respects and enhances the integrity of you and your spopuse.
A genuine apology is heavy lifting in going deep into taking your shape – and becoming the best person you can be, regardless of what your spouse does or does not do.

(photo source)