The Biggest Mistakes People Make When Apologizing

Timing, intimacy and sincerity matter.
Although apologizing for a mistake is a step in the right direction, saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t immediately right a wrong.
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Although apologizing for a mistake is a step in the right direction, saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t immediately right a wrong.

Apologizing can be very difficult. It takes maturity to put aside your pride and own up to your blunders. And when you do issue an apology, it’s easy to make mistakes.

HuffPost spoke to a group of etiquette experts to identify the worst mistakes people make in these situations. Here are seven things to avoid doing when apologizing to someone.

Making Excuses

Apologizing is about owning up to your mistakes, not making excuses for them.

“For the other person to heal, address the issue and acknowledge your actions were out of line. Take a careful look at the part you played in the blunder,” said Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert, the author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life and the founder of the Protocol School of Texas.

While you could offer some context or explanation for how things went wrong, you shouldn’t let that negate your apology, said Lizzie Post, a co-host of the Emily Post Institute’s “Awesome Etiquette” podcast.

She said, “You could say something like, ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you during your breakup. Things have been a bit complicated on my end, but I’m going to make the effort going forward to be there for you because I care about you.’”

Coming Off As Insincere

“If you aren’t coming across as sincere, you are just not going to win in the apology department,” said Post. She suggests practicing your apology beforehand so that you’re comfortable with the words and can focus on your tone and sincerity when it comes time to deliver them.

“It’s really important, and people get that wrong all the time,” she said. “Another thing people say is ‘If you need an apology, then sure, I’m really sorry.’ But that’s not sincere. That’s just like, ‘Give me a break and go away.’”

In the long run, not being genuine just creates more distrust instead of repairing the damage. “If the gesture is not authentic, it will be apparent, and the sentiment is meaningless,” said Gottsman.

Doing It Via Text

It’s important to apologize face to face if possible.

“You want to give your undivided attention when making an apology and leave technology out of the mix,” Gottsman noted. “A post on social media is not the same as a heartfelt visit. Allow the other person to hear your voice and see your facial expressions. A text is the last option when it comes to expressing sincere remorse.”

If an in-person apology isn’t possible, however, technology like FaceTime and Skype can allow for the next best thing.

Saying ‘I’m Sorry, But’

Adding a “but” to your apology is one of the worst ways to say you’re sorry.

“When you use the word ‘but,’ it negates or cancels everything that goes before it. It is generally accepted as a signal that the really important part of the sentence is coming up,” international etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore said. “As my wise Granny Johnson used to say, ‘The more you stir the pot, the more it will stink.’

Even if your intentions were good, you still have to own up to the harm you caused.

“There’s this need to say, ‘Well, I’m really sorry, but that wasn’t what I was trying to do,’” said Post. “Now you’ve brought the focus back to you as opposed to just saying, ‘It wasn’t my intention, and I am so sorry this happened to you. I’m going to be more careful about this’ or whatever it is that helps you move forward.”

Blaming The Other Person

“Saying ‘I’m sorry you feel that way,’ negates the apology and places blame on the other person,” said Gottsman. “Rather than saying, ‘I’m sorry I hurt you,’ you can say, ‘I’m sorry for my behavior. I was wrong, and I want to apologize.’ Humility is the key to genuine regret.”

One of the worst things you can do in a situation that calls for an apology is to deny you did anything bad or say “You’re being irrational” to the person who feels wronged, she added.

Apologizing Too Late (Or Too Early)

Waiting too long to apologize can make a bad situation worse.

“Do it sooner rather than later. If you do or say something harmful, issue a prompt apology, as it can save you headaches down the road,” Whitmore said.

Post noted, however, that apologizing too quickly can also be problematic. “Sometimes people need a minute to cool off, and if someone’s trying to hound them to give them an apology, it’s not going to work,” she explained. Although it’s hard to generalize when it comes to apology timing, you can use context clues to determine the right time to deliver the “I’m sorry.”

If you find yourself having waited a little too long to apologize, don’t abandon the endeavor, advised Gottsman.

“You may feel you have missed the window of opportunity to offer an apology, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t address the concern,” she said. “If time has passed, you can still attempt to right a wrong. The old saying holds true — better late than never.”

Expecting Immediate Forgiveness

Although an apology is a step in the right direction, saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t immediately right a wrong.

“Once you have offered your apologies, don’t expect a quick fix,” Gottsman said. “It may take more time than you would like, but by doing the right thing, you have started the wheels in motion.”

It’s especially important to allow time for healing. “We’re often so anxious to get to the point of reconciliation that we forget that it takes time for that to actually feel good and take place. It’s not going to happen perfectly in a moment of apology,” said Post.

Ultimately, reconciliation requires time and work, but in the end, your relationships can come back stronger than they were before.

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