THE BLOG
01/14/2015 08:32 am ET Updated Mar 16, 2015

How to Apologize and Get It Right

With the new year underway, many people might see it as a time to move forward by improving their relationships, both professional and romantic. It's a good time to hit the reset button and take that step towards resolving past conflict. Crucial to accomplishing this is to make amends and issue an apology for wrongdoings. As a psychotherapist and executive coach, I help clients who get into trouble -- whether with their spouse or the public. There's a right way to issue an apology, and of course, a wrong way. We've seen examples of both lately in the news. There are certain elements that should be part of an apology, and there are things that should not be said.

Here's how to issue a proper apology, whether you're a partner or spouse, celebrity, or business leader, who made a mistake:

  • Own it. Verbalize what you did wrong and do it in person. This shows some level of culpability and awareness.
  • Don't make excuses. Don't try to explain away why you said or did something wrong. If you cheated, don't say, "I was drunk and that's why it happened." Instead, be direct and say what happened.
  • Keep it simple. Celebrities and public figures so often say too much and end up getting into more trouble. Their rant is usually an attempt to rationalize the behavior and that isn't what the public needs at the moment. Celebrity or not, obfuscating your words will dilute your intended message.
  • Be specific. Clearly identify what it is you are apologizing for. Saying, "I am sorry for making the comment about you being messy" is clear and direct. This goes much further than saying, "I'm sorry that you were upset."
  • Make it heartfelt. Speak from the heart and don't be afraid to show genuine emotion. This is your first step in repentance. This will go a long way in humanizing you and showing sincerity, both of which are critical in winning back trust and respect.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the person you hurt. What do you think that person experienced and felt emotionally? Was it hurt? Sadness? Anxiety? Fear? Try to understand what the person or group might be going through and identify it. Be empathetic. For example, "I understand how my comments may have hurt you and made you feel anxious and disrespected."
  • What could you have done differently? Express how you could have handled the situation in a healthier way. So for the spouse who yells at his significant other when upset he might say "I should have taken a time out and then when I felt calmer expressed my frustrations."
  • Take action. Indicate what is next. What actions are you taking to try to improve things? For instance, if you have a tendency to blow up at your spouse, then perhaps therapy that addresses anger and communication is in order.

Next time you're in a position to apologize, do it the right way even though it might be difficult. The gain far outweighs any anxiety you may have over saying, "I am sorry."

For more tips on how to handle difficult situations check out my book, BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life in 28 Days.