Sorry about that: Tips for sincere apologies

Author: Dr. Julie T. Kinn is a clinical and research psychologist at the National Center for Telehealth & Technology (T2). She oversees development and utilization of mobile health resources.

One of the unfortunate aspects of being human is that we mess up sometimes. Usually this means spilling a beverage or forgetting to pick up milk from the store. Sometimes our messes are larger and require apologies. When saying you’re sorry, remember these three tips:

  1. State what you did that was wrong and why it was wrong. This helps the recipient of your apology know that you really do understand why you are apologizing. For example, “I’m sorry that I spoke to you like that in front of the kids. I know we need to be a team, and when I put you down, it’s harder for you to be an authority figure. Plus, it made you feel bad.” If you start with, “I’m sorry, but….” or “I’m sorry if that offended you but…” then you’re not really apologizing.
  2. State what you will do differently in the future. For example, “If I have a problem with what you’re doing, I’ll talk to you about it away from the kids next time, and I’ll try to be nicer about it.”
  3. Follow through. Don’t just pay lip service to the people who are important to you; if you say you’re going to do something differently, try to make that happen. If you keep promising different behavior but never deliver, then others around you are going to lose patience.

A note of caution: are you finding yourself apologizing after using alcohol or other substances? If so, it’s possible that your substance use has led to some difficulties with those around you. This is often a first clue that it might be time to change the way you use alcohol or other drugs. Consider assessing  yourself or reading more about common drugs and alcohol.

In preparation for this blog post Dr. Kinn made many errors in order to practice apologizing. Yup, it was all just for the practice.