How to Convey a Heartfelt Apology

Barbara Penoyar/Photodisc/Getty Images

Swallowing one’s pride to apologize to a friend, family member, or significant other is one of the most mature things an adult can do. But many people wrongly assume that the act of apologizing alone will result in another person’s forgiveness. If you are going to apologize, don't offer whatRichard E. Vatz, professor of rhetoric and communication at Towson (Md.) University and author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion, identified as the wrong kind of apology: (1) a strategic attempt to ameliorate consequences, (2) to meet expectations from others, or (3) a patently insincere apology to communicate one’s contempt for the victim.The only apology that is likely to truly patch an argument is an genuine appeal for forgiveness, otherwise known as a heartfelt apology.

Let Go of Anger

Usually people find themselves in the position of needing to apologize because of bad behavior that stemmed from an emotional conflict with another person. In this case, you may feel some residual anger and/or believe that the other person was in the wrong as well. Instead of apologizing while you’re angry, try to let go of your anger toward the other person. An apology delivered without anger and contempt will come across as much more sincere.

Accept Responsibility

Accept responsibility for the behavior that has led you to apologize. Do not rationalize your actions or blame the other person for your choices. In addition, focus on your own actions instead of the other person’s. While the person you are in conflict with may also be at fault, you can only control your own behavior. Leave out any reference to the other person’s actions when planning your apology.

Keep It Simple

A truly heartfelt apology will not require fanfare or expensive gifts. If you want to bring the other person a gift as a token of your apology, make sure the gift is thoughtfully chosen for that person, and not meant to replace your sincere words. Apologize in person if at all possible, because your body language will emphasize your honesty. Look the other person in the eye and speak clearly. Apologize for any and all of your transgressions towards him or her and ask for forgiveness.

Be Patient

The person who receives your apology may or may not be ready to forgive you immediately. You cannot demand forgiveness; you can only ask for it. Similarly, you must be patient if you are waiting for an apology from the other person. Don’t demand that the other person apologize to you immediately after you say you’re sorry. Instead, tell him or her that you hope he or she can forgive you in time. Then, be patient while you wait for his or her response. It may take several days, weeks, or months, depending on your relationship and the pain you have caused.