Just saying “I am sorry” is not enough to have someone fully accept your apology. Your apology needs to be as substantial and commensurate to the damage. An effective apology creates powerful healing for all.

Two of the most powerful words in the human language globally are, “I’m Sorry!” Many parents teach their children to say these words whenever they do something wrong to somebody. However, most often it seems to stop there. We can do better! We need to learn to deliver our apology more comprehensively so that the person not only “hears” the apology but “feels” your sincerity.  A sincere apology is clothed in empathy.

However, these powerful healing words have been diminished as many people tend to say they are sorry to someone for a specific behavior, but they continue to repeat the hurtful behavior time and time again.  If you find yourself apologizing over and over again for the same behavior, it is time to take a closer look at why you continue to repeat this pattern. Next, after addressing this root cause, you can use the following to help improve the sincerity of your apology.

Here are some contemplations and action steps to expressing your apologies and creating a more comprehensive healing for all involved.

1. Take Stock of WHY You’re Sorry

Step one: Before you say anything sit quietly and calmly with yourself and reflect on your actions. Review what it is that you did and how it may have hurt the other person not only from your point of view but theirs as well. Try to understand how the injured may feel about the offense. Dig deep into your being to understand why you acted this way. An apology without empathy and understanding of the effects that your actions/words had on another, is incomplete and surely will not be heartfelt by the other person.

2. Say You’re Sorry—and mean it.

Now that you understand why you did or said something and how it affected the other person you can deliver a more comprehensive heartfelt apology. Communicating effectively how and why you are sorry is among the most significant things you can do when you’ve wronged somebody. It is an affirmation that you understand that you committed an error (which is human by the way).  If you’re not actually sorry, and if you do not actually intend to change future behavior, making an insincere apology corrupts the words and your character. If you find yourself not feeling sorry but knowing you have hurt someone, you should evaluate if possibly your pride is getting in the way of you feeling empathy.  It may also be because you think differently than the other person and truly do not understand why your words/or action offended the person.  Ask the person to share their feelings and thoughts with you about your action or words.

3. Express That You Understand Why You’re Sorry

Tell the person you are sorry and let them know you understand how it affected them.

For a person to really believe you are sorry they also need to hear you articulate that understand how your action and words affected them.  It is important to acknowledge their feelings.

4. Talk About What You’ve Learned

Now that you discovered why you did or said something and how it affected the receiver, a good discussion about what you learned from the process will surely help the recipient to feel your sincerity and humanness.

5. Acknowledge That You Understand the Consequences

Another piece of your statement of regret ought to be an outward affirmation that you comprehend that there will be consequences, conceivably harsher outcomes, if you commit a similar error again. 

6. List the Ways You’ll Change

This part can be straightforward and brief. Discussing the specific actions you intent to take to prevent future conflict tells the other party that you are completely dedicated to correcting your wrongs and striving to continue your journey of self-improvement.

7. Ask for Forgiveness

Finally, explicitly request that the other party pardon you. On the off chance that they don’t, rehash any of the above steps until you realize what needs to happen or what understanding still needs to be obtained in order to gain that pardoning.

For some of us, apologizing is difficult in a couple of ways. One issue is that we may be unclear how to deliver the apology in such a way that the offended person is likely to forgive us. Clearly expressing yourself, sharing your understanding of why you acted this way, and then telling the person your plan for how to avoid future conflict will get your point across and help heal your relationship.

Many people prefer to hope that “time heals all wounds” and they will just wait it out.  This is NOT a good idea. No one and no relationship grows from this approach. If the relationship with your offended party really matters, your apology will be substantial and comprehensive.

What if you don’t think you did anything wrong yet the other person feels you did? This is a clear situation of you not understanding fully how the other person views the situation.  So a good place to start is to let the person know that you are unclear as to exactly what the problem is and you would like to hear their point of view so you could then review the situation again in your mind considering their feelings. Then begin again at Step 1.