The art of an effective apology

If you want to move beyond restating your position (even if you’re right) and on to resolving the conflict once and for all, here are the steps you must follow—all of them.

Society has embedded it in our brains: Fight to be right; never be wrong.

Whether it is in an effort to save face or to avoid embarrassment or feeling weak, these negative, dead-end perceptions have got us pointlessly digging our heels into quicksand.

It takes an evolved person to admit when he or she is wrong. However, considering the benefits of gained respect, resolved conflicts, and the promise of growth, this evolution points to a smarter, more controlled human being. Luckily, with a little practice we all can tap into our ability to apologize like a boss, no power suit required.

Regardless of the situation or the truth that you hold in your heart, when an absent apology is holding you back from bigger and better things, it’s no longer worth it. Your first (and most difficult) step is to…

Admit you were wrong.

Now for those of you saying, “Well, what about instances in which I’m the one who’s right?” Don’t worry; there is an answer for you, too. Regardless of facts, proof, or common sense, your goal here is to move on, so find some fault, any fault, that you can own up to.

For example, “I was wrong to let this carry on for so long.” Keep in mind that it takes two to tango, so chances are good—regardless of who made the first mistake—there is some misstep you can admit to making along the way.

Lay your cards on the table.

This is perhaps the trickiest part of the process because “explaining” can tornado you back into rehashing the same destructive issues all over again. Take a big gulp here; yup, that’s your pride going back inside—right where it belongs.

Your explanations should focus on one thing and one thing only: your behavior. Do not mention the other person’s faults that equally contributed to your skirmish or feud. This will only make your counterpoint put up their guard further until you’re right back where you started.

Instead, explain your behavior. For example:

“I did X as a response to my feeling Y. I know that was not your intention to make me feel like Z, but unfortunately at the time that is how I perceived things.”

Keep your goal of rebuilding this relationship at the forefront of your thoughts, guiding your calm reactions and cool acknowledgments.

OK, you’ve done the dirty work. You’ve admitted to being wrong, and you’ve offered an explanation for your behavior. Now it’s time to suggest peace between you and your counterpart with three of the most powerful words in the universe:

‘I am sorry.’

Your efforts up to this point will be fruitless if you leave out that magical phrase. Be sure not to exercise creative license. Saying, “I am sorry that you got so upset by this,” is not the same thing; in fact, it’s infuriating to hear. Remember you’re apologizing like a boss here. Deliver your sorry with a cool tone and a genuine look of remorse.

The last and final step is to make an effort to ensure that this does not happen again. Let your ears take the wheel and listen up after asking, “What can I do to make things better from this point on?” It takes a class act to carry on in this manner, but with this final step in place, you’ll begin to see your resolution on the horizon.

Take to heart whatever the other person might suggest, and understand what will be necessary (on your part) for a solid future. It’s important to note that regardless of how the other person reacts…

You have the power to command the conversation.

If you keep a cool head and care only about resolving the conflict and moving on, then chances are you will do so. Own your actions, and keep in mind that what happened in the past in no way has to dictate your future. After all, it’s just another day in the life of a humble, happy boss.

What other tips do you have for delivering a flawless apology?

Kelly Gregorio writes about topics that affect small businesses and entrepreneurs while working at Advantage Capital Funds. You can connect with her through the comments section on her daily business blog. A version of this article first appeared on Waxing UnLyrical.

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