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THE INC. LIFE

Words You Should Never Use When Making an Apology

How you word your apology can make a big difference on its effectiveness. Don’t blow it.

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BY Peter Economy - 08 Jan 2019

how to apologize

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

"An apology is a lovely perfume; it can transform the clumsiest moment into a gracious gift." -- Margaret Lee Runbeck

Every so often, we make terrible mistakes, resulting in broken relationships and ended friendships -- both at work and at home. But if you deliver the right heartfelt apology, emotional bonds between two people can be strengthened, so long as you say the right words. And if you say the wrong words, wounds can be opened and more damage can be done.

So choose your words extremely carefully. In fact, be sure to keep a running list of words and phrases that you should absolutely avoid saying when asking for forgiveness.

According to psychologist Harriet Lerner, the use of the word "but," for example, can lead to a complete communication misfire. Even if your apology is sincere, the word "but" will qualify your expression of regret with a disclaimer. Translation? "But" indicates that there is justification for what you did, and that you are not actually taking responsibility.

For instance, "I'm sorry, but you made me angry first" is hardly an effective apology. In fact, it's passive-aggressive, and can further anger the other person. The "but," when perceived as an excuse, will convince the recipient that your apology is insincere, and that the sincerity of your original message is nonexistent.

Lerner also suggests you talk more about the actions you did, and to not "direct your apology at the hurt caused." This means that when you say, "I'm sorry you feel that way," your apologetic message is diluted because you aren't actually addressing the incident. You are not taking ownership of your wrongdoing, and you are actually implying that the other person is too sensitive or irrational.

Need help with creating a proper apology? Sheri Meyers, marriage and family therapist, says this: "For an apology to be effective, it must be clear that:

1. You accept full responsibility for your actions and inactions;

2. You are sincerely sorry for anything you've done to cause pain, and

3. That you want to remedy the situation by giving your partner what they need to feel safe in order to move on and forgive you."

Avoid placing the blame back onto the person your apology is directed at. Remember that although making an apology and admitting fault is challenging, living a life without important relationships will be even more difficult.

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