While disagreements are part of life, words spoken in anger can escalate a simple disagreement into a more serious situation. Although it may be difficult to say “I’m sorry,” a short, heartfelt apology uttered in simple words can be the first step in repairing a relationship. However, to be effective, you should fully understand your role in the argument and be prepared to ask the offended party for forgiveness. While it is usually best to offer your apology in person, depending upon circumstances, a handwritten note that expresses your regret may be appropriate. When possible, it is best to wait for tempers to cool down before apologizing.
A sincere apology requires that you acknowledge your role in the argument and hold yourself accountable for your actions. Be prepared to accept criticism about your words or behavior, and try not to be judgmental. Refrain from defensive verbal banter and allow your partner to air his feelings without interruption. When he is finished speaking you can relay your feelings about the matter.
An authentic apology should have three elements, according to Guy Winch, Ph.D., in Psychology Today: a verbal “I’m sorry,” an expression of regret and an appeal for forgiveness. In order to be effective, your apology must be sincere and acknowledge the other person's feelings. Try to avoid passive-aggressive terms, such as “whatever” or “I’m not mad,” that may appear to suggest you are not truly sorry and still harbor feelings of anger.
Offer to Make Amends
When the other person is hurt, an expression of empathy for her feelings is often appropriate. Unlike sympathy, empathy does not imply you are sorry for the way they feel, but that you acknowledge her feelings as being legitimate and intend take positive action to alleviate her discomfort. While verbal apologies are important, a promise to change your behavior or correct a wrong is a clear statement that you intend to make things right.
The components of an effective apology will depend upon whether you have argued with a coworker, friend or loved one. While a colleague may accept your offer to set things right in a public forum, a partner or close friend may be more appreciative of your sincerity and your promise to alter your behavior. Try to end your apology on an upbeat note, and assure the offended party it is now in her court as to whether she will forgive you.