It takes maturity and humility to own up to your mistakes and apologize. It also takes maturity and humility to accept an apology after you’ve been wronged.
Accepting an apology and forgiving someone often doesn’t come easily, but there are ways to go handle such situations with sincerity, mindfulness and grace.
HuffPost spoke to two etiquette experts about the process. Here are five things to keep in mind when someone is offering you an apology.
When someone is apologizing to you, it’s important to give your full attention and try to really hear what the person is saying.
“Let the person speak without interruption,” said Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert, the author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life and the founder of the Protocol School of Texas. Interrupting or criticizing the other person can be tempting, especially if the wounds still feel fresh, but a big first step can be hearing the person out and acknowledging the apology.
“Listening and showing forgiveness does not mean it’s OK. Showing appreciation for the effort doesn’t mean all is forgotten,” she said. “You can say, ‘I appreciate your effort to acknowledge your mistake, but I need some time. I hope you will understand.’”
Take The Time You Need
If you need time, it’s best to be honest about that. But you can also give it a positive spin, said Lizzie Post, a co-host of the Emily Post Institute’s “Awesome Etiquette” podcast.
“Sincerely say, ‘I really appreciate hearing that. This is something that hit me hard’ or “It really felt awkward between us. I’m still going to need a little time to process, but I’m looking forward to when this is behind us,’” she recommended. “Give them that positive hope for the future.”
The “I need more time to process” aspect is personal. “It is your own thing. The other person has recognized their faults and taken responsibility and apologized to you for that,” said Post. “So now, however long it takes for you to get over it, it’s something you are working through and need to figure out.”
During this time, you can still participate in the friendship or take a break from the everyday interactions for a bit ― whatever works best for you.
Pay Attention To Body Language
When you’re hearing someone’s apology, take note of the person’s body language and tone of voice.
“Body language speaks volumes,” said Gottsman. “Watch carefully to decide if the words are sincere. Your intuition will generally tell you if the apology is well intentioned.”
Put simply, apologizing requires effort, and if someone seems apathetic, you probably want to take note.
Try To Let It Go
“Try to get it behind you. Don’t let it fester,” Post said. “There are so many things we’ve all done in our lives that we just pray people don’t hold over us. Give your friends breaks when you can.”
If it’s truly the end of a friendship, it’s best to simply say something along the lines of, “I don’t think I can move beyond this. It’s over.” Still, from an etiquette standpoint, it’s best to give people the benefit of the doubt and offer them a second chance, Post said.
Gottsman granted that if something really egregious happened, you don’t have to forgive. “I think it’s a choice, and it’s not always appropriate to accept an apology,” she said.
“But for yourself and your own piece of mind, you have to move on,” she added. “Don’t continue to dwell on it, because if it’s eating you up, it’s toxic.” Moving on is an important part of self-care and may require counseling from a friend or professional or some other kind of help.
“It’s not being selfish. It’s about living your best life, which can’t happen when you’re filled with anger or hate,” Gottsman said. “It doesn’t mean you have to be friends again, but you can accept the effort and go on with your life.”
Be Mindful Of Repeat Offenders
“Don’t trust a repeat offender,” said Gottsman. “Let them know you don’t have any intention of sharing another confidence but you will let it go” — for example, for the sake of a family or business relationship.
Mistakes can be forgiven, but multiple offenses call for cautiousness.
“If there’s a history and they continue to do it, then at some point in time you become part of the problem because you allow it to continue to happen,” she said. “So you have to draw some clear boundaries.”
You can be honest with the other person and say, “This has become a pattern, and it’s hurtful and uncomfortable. I’m having a trust issue,” Gottsman recommended.
Establishing boundaries and keeping your distance doesn’t have to lead to sarcasm or a falling out, especially if it’s someone in your larger circle of friends. “You can just be pleasant but distant,” Gottsman said.