This is the one word experts say you should never use in a sincere apology

By | March 30, 2024

Big or small, mistakes are a fact of life. Sometimes they are as small as forgetting a lunch date. And others, like forgetting your anniversary or lashing out at a loved one, are arguably harder to forgive.

That’s because hurting someone, whether intentional or not, can lead to permanent, even irreparable damage in a relationship.

That’s where sincere apologies come in.

“We all hurt other people, just as we are hurt by them. So the need to give and receive an apology remains with us until our very last breath,” explains Harriet Lerner, psychologist and author of “Why Won’t You Apologize?”

However, not everyone understands why it’s important to apologize, especially if they don’t think they’ve done anything wrong.

“If an apology is missing or if we screw it up, it can cause a crack in the foundation of a relationship, or even end a relationship,” Lerner told in a phone interview.

If we don’t apologize for something we’ve done, even if we don’t think it’s necessarily our fault, it can end up doing more damage than we’re apologizing for in the first place.

That’s why the willingness to put aside “right” or “wrong” and simply apologize for the hurt is so important.

“The courage to apologize and the wisdom and clarity to do it wisely and well are at the heart of what matters most,” Lerner says. “It is the core of parenting, leadership and friendship. It is at the core of our own sense of personal integrity, responsibility and self-worth.”

Saying sorry isn’t easy

Apologies aren’t always easy. For many people, having to say sorry can trigger feelings of vulnerability or even anger.

That’s because our brains are wired for defensiveness, Lerner says. And when confronted, we often go on the attack instead of listening to the essence of what the hurt or angry party wants us to understand.

When we listen defensively, Lerner says our attention shifts to perceived exaggerations or inaccuracies in the conversation rather than to what the problem is.

Furthermore, once we are on the defensive, we often debate the things we think are not true or fair, instead of seriously listening to what the injured party has to say.

However, it’s the listening part that really matters. “If only we listened with the same passion we feel when we are heard,” Lerner says.

Apologies are extremely powerful

Even if you don’t think you’ve done anything “wrong,” Karina Schumann, an associate professor of social psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, tells that it’s important to view the situation from the perspective of the person who was harmed or insulted and then validated.

“To hear those words of acknowledgment that you are aware that something has happened that is troubling or problematic for this person, and that you are not making excuses for it,” can have a huge impact, Schumann says.

So, what are the steps in giving a sincere apology?

“If it’s something important, the good apology can start with ‘I’m sorry,’” Lerner says. “But it doesn’t stop there.”

Actually, apologizing is just the beginning. According to Lerner and Schumann, you need to do the following to apologize effectively.

Step 1: Listen and then listen again

Young man listens to a friend.  (Manu Vega/Getty Images)

Young man listens to a friend. (Manu Vega/Getty Images)

A good apology starts with a willingness to listen and hear what the injured party has to say, despite any objections you may have. “Sit on the hot seat and listen with an open heart to the anger of the injured party,” Lerner suggests.

Please note that you may not be able to discuss all topics in one conversation.

“When it comes to a great betrayal, there is no greater gift, or one that is harder to give, than the kind of listening where we put aside our defensiveness and listen to someone’s anger and pain as he or she accuses us of doing so. have caused,” Lerner said. adds.

Step 2: Take responsibility

Lerner says a good apology requires us to take “clear and direct responsibility for what we did or did or failed to say or do,” without reservation.

A “real apology doesn’t contain the word ‘but,’” she says.

According to Lerner, a good example of an apology goes like this: “I’m really sorry about what I said at the party last night. It was insensitive and inappropriate.”

It is not a good apology to shift the focus to the other person’s feelings or reaction. For example: ‘I’m sorry about that you felt hurt by what I said at the party last night.

The type of apology doesn’t work because there is no responsibility or ownership for the action. Instead, she places the blame on the injured party.

“You’re not apologizing for someone else’s feelings, which maybe means that if they were a little tougher and not so sensitive, maybe they wouldn’t be so hurt,” Lerner says.

Step 3: Make reparations

Close-up shot of two people holding hands (Getty Images)Close-up shot of two people holding hands (Getty Images)

Close-up shot of two people holding hands (Getty Images)

Be sure to include a “corrective action,” which Lerner describes as something that attempts to right the wrong committed.

For example, suppose you receive bad service or food at a restaurant and the waiter says he’s sorry but fails to make up for the bad service or food in some way. “It’s a terrible business mistake to apologize but not make amends,” Lerner says.

When it comes to relationships, corrective action may include not making the same mistake again, or communicating that you intend to change your behavior.

This of course depends on the situation in question. In Lerner’s eyes, a single “I’m sorry” probably isn’t enough for big issues like affairs, abuse and other toxic behavior.

“It’s rare for an apology to be made in one conversation,” Lerner explains. And as difficult as it is, she says it’s important not to wait for the injured person to bring up the incident again to have another conversation about it.

Instead, it might be helpful if you suggest we talk about it again.

“We always wait for the hurt party to bring it up, but an important part of recovery, if it’s something important, is taking the initiative to bring it up.”

Step 4: Allow time for forgiveness

Most problems are not solved within a day. While you may hope that you will be forgiven once you apologize, that is not always the case.

“Some think an apology for some types of offenses is simply not enough,” Schumann said. “There should be no burden or pressure on victims to immediately forgive when they receive an apology.”

A sincere apology will go a long way in starting the healing process, but the person who was hurt may not be completely ready to move on and may need more time to process their feelings and needs. This means that the person apologizing must give time and space for forgiveness to occur.

“Be willing to engage in a longer process of accountability, rather than just thinking, ‘I apologized. It’s done, the person is going to forgive me now,” Schumann says.

According to Schumann, relationship damage or “fraying of trust in a relationship” can require a longer process of behavioral change and rebuilding that trust. “Apologies are a good starting point, but usually require a little more than that.”

Step 5: Validate each other’s position

Finally, try to enter the conversation with an open mind and a willingness to solve the problem.

“It takes two,” says Schumann. “But one person can initiate an open-minded communication where you don’t attack the other person, attack their character and talk about how they always do things like this to you.”

By taking this approach, she says, the other person is likely to become defensive. “But these are the steps that can try to reduce that defensiveness and promote real empathy and understanding between the people involved,” says Schumann.

It’s also true that in some cases you may never get the apology you hope for.

“People who commit serious harm may never get to the point where they can admit to their harmful actions, let alone apologize to fix them,” says Lerner.

The good news is that when it comes to apologies, there is no statute of limitations on saying you’re sorry. “It could have been something that happened a long, long time ago,” Lerner says, adding that it’s better to apologize late than not at all.

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