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How to Master the Art of Apologising

When tense situations arise, a well-crafted apology can provide a great solution. With a proper apology, you can clear tense, negative energy quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, many people today do not understand the art of apologizing. As a result, small, inconsequential issues can often explode into huge arguments that can cause a lot of damage to everyone involved.

Luckily, the art of apologizing is actually quite simple, and if you apologize properly it will work pretty much every single time (unless you’ve done something completely horrific or you are dealing with someone who has an intense anger management problem). With a little practice, the art of apologizing can become an easy, go-to habit that keeps you out of arguments and dramatics.

I figured out how to do this back when I used to wait tables and bartend. At times in the service industry, you have to deal with customers who are upset and angry, and many times their anger has nothing to do with anything you’ve done wrong. In an effort to enjoy my job more (and make more money!), I found that if I was able to apologize properly when problems arose, the tension would quickly subside, and things went much more pleasantly for all of us.

Even when things weren’t my fault, a well-crafted apology transformed the energy between the customer and I, and helped me make better tips! It also made me feel powerful to know I that I was able to transform someone else’s anger quickly and easily. So here’s how I did it back then, and still do it today!

The Art of Apologising

Listen and use the right nonverbal cues:

When someone is upset or angry, a lot of times we try to quickly defend ourselves or explain why things aren’t our fault, but this will only aggravate someone who is already tense. The reason the person is upset is because they feel as if they have been faulted, and whether or not you were at fault or you intended to hurt them, they want to be heard.

So first, humble yourself and listen without interruption. Resist the urge to defend yourself. Let them get it all out.

While the angry person is talking, it’s a good idea to look them in the eye, and either cock your head to the side a little or shake your head like you understand what they are saying. These nonverbal cues suggest that you are truly listening to them, and will make the upset person feel validated, which will calm their anger a bit.

Parrot back the problem:

When the angry person is done venting, confirm that you’ve heard them by repeating back to them their concerns in your own words, and demonstrate empathy for the issue at hand. For example “I understand, you’ve been waiting for a long time for your food and you’re hungry.”

Say “I’m Sorry”:

Regardless of whether or not you feel that you made a mistake, a simple “I’m sorry” can really help, so be generous with apologies when dealing with angry people. In the case of waiting tables, if the food was taking a long time, it usually wasn’t my fault-but I could still apologise by simply saying “I’m sorry you’ve had to wait so long for your food.”

Avoid false apologies:

It is important to be mindful of how you phrase your apologies. I often hear people saying things like “I’m sorry if you thought I wasn’t doing my job” or “I’m sorry if you felt I tried to hurt you.”

Apologies like these are not apologies, they are actually mild insults. They imply that the other person is being trivial and doesn’t have a decent reason to be upset. Typically, apologies like these will only illicit more anger from the other person. They will not usually mend the fence.

Again, you don’t have to take ownership of anything you didn’t do, but apologize in a way that demonstrates you understand that the person is upset about something valid. Do not trivialize the other person’s anger.

For example, instead of saying “I’m sorry if you thought I wasn’t doing my job” you could say “I’m sorry things haven’t gone smoothly today.” Instead of saying “I’m sorry if you felt I tried to hurt you” you could simply say “I’m sorry you were hurt.”

Take responsibility if the responsibility was yours:

This can be a hard one, but it is really very important. If you made a mistake, or did something that hurt another person, take ownership. For example: “I’m sorry I offended you,” “I’m sorry I said that,” “I’m sorry I broke that” or “I’m sorry I forgot to call you,” etc. Be specific.

Taking ownership in your part of the offense is the best way to get someone to let you off the hook. It’s very hard to stay mad at someone who demonstrates sincere remorse for their actions.

This part of apologizing can often be challenging for people, because many of us like to protect our egos and don’t like admitting our faults. However, taking ownership for our faults is critical if we want to mend the relationship.

We all make mistakes, and people are much more likely to chalk up your infraction to an honest mistake if you demonstrate sincere regret. No one expects you to be perfect, but they do expect you to be compassionate and caring, and taking ownership demonstrates that you are.

The art of apologizing isn’t common knowledge for everyone out there, but it would be nice if it was! When problems arise and tension is in the air, it is very beneficial to use a well-crafted apology to quickly and efficiently improve the energy in the exchange.

Please remember that apologising doesn’t mean that you are a bad person, or that you are “wrong” and the other person is “right.” It simply means that you want to resolve a conflict respectfully and move on with your life. You don’t have to let little misunderstandings and hostilities rip apart your relationships with other people or cause conflicts with people you hardly know. By checking your ego and giving apologies freely, you have the power to mend fences and move past the rough patches quickly and easily without getting caught up in unnecessary drama and fights.

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