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4 Steps to a Sincere Apology

02/10/2015 04:10 pm ET | Updated Apr 12, 2015
Nicolas McComber via Getty Images

Ever have an apology leave you - well, even more angry or hurt? There actually are some rules on how to apologize -- rules that if followed, will have you back in good graces in no time.

My two friends Becky and Laura have an ongoing argument. It is the same one that pops up each and every time they argue, regardless of what the original argument was about. (Please note, these gals have been good friends for a long time, and thus have had the chance to have an argument or two over the years.) It seems that the way Becky apologizes just doesn't suit Laura, and thus the end of one disagreement simply melds into the start of another for these otherwise great buddies. (Ugh!)

While I adore both women, I do have to say that I tend to agree with Laura on this one. When Becky does offer an apology, her statement typically goes something like, "Well Laura, I am sorry that you feel that way." (Double Ugh!)

Try as she might, Laura just can't get Becky to understand how offensive her apology is, and why it simply makes the situation that much more hurtful. Of course, Becky doesn't mean to re-offend her long-time friend, but she simply doesn't know the rules of a proper apology, or rather, what makes for a good one.

But I do, so here they are:

1. The Admission:

When you do something wrong or hurtful, whether intentionally or not, it is always best to start any apology with an admission of what you did wrong. If you broke a confidence, then say, "I broke your confidence." If you were two hours late ... again, then say, "I was terribly, terribly late ... again."

It may seem like such a silly and unnecessary part of an apology, but it really serves a needed purpose: it puts both parties on the same page, and cements the fact that you are talking about the same offense. See, one person may actually see no harm in the fact that they shared your personal information with someone else, believing that you would have shared the information yourself anyway, so what's the problem. And while you actually may not be mad that another person is now privy to your secrets, you are disappointed that your friend didn't respect your privacy by keeping the proverbial "lid on it".

Which is why a statement that directly spells out the offense is needed. One such as,

"I shared your private information even though you asked me to keep it confidential" works just fine.

2. An Explanation

So now that both parties are in agreement as to what the actual offense was, the offending party is now obligated to explain why they did the thing they weren't supposed to do.

The truth is that nine times out of ten, the person in the doghouse had absolutely no intention of doing anything to hurt the other person, it was simply a mistake of one sort or another. This is exactly why an explanation is so important; it provides details to the hurt individual, details that clarify why or how something happened.

For example, if you were suppose to meet your friend at the mall, but you showed up two hours late, then your explanation might go something like this, "I forgot" or "I over-committed and just didn't make it."

OK, not great excuses, but that is the point, this isn't where you interject an excuse. Instead this is where you sincerely and honestly tell the other person what happened and why it happened.

But there is a second part to this step, and it includes providing details as to why this situation won't happen again. Because see, here is the deal, there isn't a great use for an apology if you are going to make or take the same action again in the future. In order to accept an apology, a person needs to feel like this "bad" situation was a rare occurrence, and isn't likely to happen again.

So, not only do you say, "I forgot," but you also say, "I forgot because I didn't write it down. But now I've started to enter all my appointments into my phone, and set a reminder alarm, so this shouldn't happen again."

3. Genuine Regret and Remorsefulness

Okay, so now you have identified what you did, and explained why it happened and why it won't happen again. So here comes the really easy part ... you say that you are sorry.

Saying you are sorry really is so simple: it only involves three little words--I am sorry. But delivered with that trio of words must be a heartfelt display of remorse. Saying the words isn't enough, you actually have to believe them. And you have to make the other person believe them too. The first step however, is to say them.

"I'm sorry."

4. Make it Right

This last step ties right in with No. 3 above. If you are really, truly sorry for whatever it is that you've done, then you'll want to do whatever it takes to make the situation right again. And this is the best way, and a necessary way, of letting your friend know that you honestly do feel badly and want to make it up to her.

In order to do this, you need to say how you are going to fix the situation. If you borrowed a shirt and stained it, say, "I'll take it to my cleaners or reimburse you for a new one." If you showed up two hours late, then say, "I missed our appointment, and I'd like to reschedule for a time that is convenient for you."

* * *

Arguments between friends happen. They happen because ... someone ran late, someone forgot, someone was clumsy, or someone did something that was just down-right inconsiderate. Things happen.

It is how you react when things "happen" that demonstrates the commitment and affection you have for and share with your friends.

The best advice on apologizing - just do it. When you know that you did something to offend, hurt, or harm another, you owe them an apology. And an explanation and an offer to correct makes it even better.

This post originally appeared on SocialJane.com.