Making Amends for Bad Behavior

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Making Amends for Bad Behavior: How to Apologize (and Mean It)


We’ve all done things we regret, things that caused pain to someone else. While we wish we could go back in time and undo it, we can’t. All we can affect is what happens going forward. And that starts with an apology.

But apologizing takes courage. It puts you in a vulnerable position. It requires admitting you were wrong, and it means accepting the damage you caused. But apologizing can strengthen or even save a relationship. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.

To be effective or meaningful, though, apologies need to be heartfelt. If you’ve been on the receiving end of an insincere apology, you know it’s no better than not getting one at all. So next time you do wrong by someone, make sure you follow these steps to apologize in a meaningful way.

Show remorse.

If you’re not truly sorry, there’s probably not much you can do to repair the relationship. Before you continue with an apology, take some time to reflect on what happened. Think about what you did, why you did it, and how it affected the other person. Consider their point of view and how they’re feeling. As you sit with what happened, feelings of remorse might start to crop up.

Be specific.

When you apologize, be specific about what you’re apologizing for. It will show the other person that you understand what you did and how it impacted them.

Explain carefully.

When apologizing, it can be tempting to explain why we did whatever we’re apologizing for. In some cases, that can help the other person understand our intentions or what provoked us. If they understand where we were coming from, it might be easier for them to forgive.

But it’s easy for “explaining” to turn into blame, deflection, or excuses. So state your explanation simply, and don’t spend too much time on it. Most importantly, make sure it doesn’t sound like you’re blaming the other person.

Make it right.

In some cases, apologizing is all there is to do. But in others, there might need more to do in order to make it right.

For example, if you lost or broke something that belongs to someone else, you probably need to replace or repair it. If you took credit for something they did, you need to make sure others know it was their work. If you damaged their reputation with gossip or criticism, you should work to improve how other people see them.

Promise it won’t happen again.

If you did wrong by somebody, they may worry it will happen again. Part of making a genuine apology is assuring them that it won’t. If there’s something specific you’re working on or planning to change, point to that. If not, explain that you’ve learned from your mistake. Make a heartfelt promise that you won’t repeat it.

Give it time.

Ultimately, you have to let the other person process your apology on their own timeline. Or choose not to process it. Maybe they won’t forgive you, and that’s their choice. Once you’ve done all you can to make amends, the best thing you can do is give it time.

About the Author

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Jennifer Ambrose

Jen is a freelance writer, blogger, and yoga teacher who left her office job in Boston to travel the world with her husband. She previously worked in international development and academic research, and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda. Some of her biggest passions include promoting responsible and mindful travel and helping her students develop their personal yoga practice.