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Oh no! I need to recover the status quo!

Being wrong sucks.  It’s embarrassing, a reminder that we’re not perfect.  Our ego wants to pretend it didn’t happen.  I mean, if the other person truly loves you they’ll just forgive you automatically, right?

Wrong.

Apologies, good apologies are a necessary social lubricant and help strengthen relationships.  They indicate that the person apologizing cares about the relationship and wants to make things right.  Here is your cheat sheet:

  1. Approach the person, preferably face-to-face and state that you’re there to apologize.  (“Hi Susan.  I think I might have offended you the other day and I want to apologize.”)
  2. Accept responsibility for your actions but do not attempt to justify them.  (“It was horrible of me to tell Todd that you’d slept with his brother but in my defense, I was really drunk.”)
  3. Say you’re sorry but do not attempt to shift blame.  (“I’m sorry if you can’t take a joke.”)
  4. Acknowledge the ramifications.  (“I interfered with your relationship and I completely understand if you’re angry with me.”)
  5. Offer reparations but don’t go overboard.  (“With your permission I’d like to speak with Todd to explain that it just sleeping, not sex.  If that doesn’t work, I’ll never bother you again.“)
  6. End the apology and be ready for an awkward silence.  (“I value our friendship and would like to get it back on track.  I would very much like for us to work through this.  I’ll wait to hear from you.”)

Bad apologies or missing apologies, on the other hand, will destroy relationship.  Don’t ignore the situation.  Don’t be insincere.  Don’t attempt to be funny.  Don’t engage in over-the-top self-flagellation.  Don’t make the apology about yourself.  Don’t guilt the other person into accepting your apology.  Don’t shirk your responsibilities should you need to actually do something to gain the other person’s forgiveness.  Don’t just wing-it.

When do you need to issue an apology?  You need to apologize when you’ve done something to get a relationship off-track.  It could be an off-hand comment or it could be about accidentally killing someone’s pet while it was in your care.  In any case, the onus to make reparations is on the offender, not the offended.  An easy rule of thumb is if you think you need to apologize then you probably should.

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