I recent­ly offend­ed a friend of mine through a con­ver­sa­tion I was hav­ing with anoth­er friend on Face­book. I saw how my oth­er friend was being offen­sive, but I didn’t think I was. I thought I was on the side of my first friend. So, I took it per­son­al­ly.

Luck­i­ly, I didn’t get defen­sive, and I avoid­ed respond­ing right away. I took some time to reflect on my actions and to see if I could under­stand my friend’s point of view and why what I was doing was offen­sive.

Even­tu­al­ly, I came to some con­clu­sions, and I apol­o­gized to my friend. It turned out that my con­clu­sions were pret­ty much on point. I’m includ­ing that apol­o­gy here, so that you can see what you need to include in your writ­ten apol­o­gy.

Hey, thanks for call­ing me out the oth­er day. Sor­ry for tak­ing so long to say any­thing. I took it as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to self reflect.

The way I see it is that I was expro­pri­at­ing the pain and suf­fer­ing of LGBTQ peo­ple. While I was try­ing to high­light the strug­gles they have with com­ing out, I dis­re­spect­ed them by cen­tring the dis­cus­sion around me. It was wrong of me to frame it the way I did, using the dis­crim­i­na­tion, mar­gin­al­iza­tion, oppres­sion, and vio­lence they expe­ri­ence as a foun­da­tion for a hypo­thet­i­cal thought expe­ri­ence.

I’m sor­ry for doing this and for the emo­tions it cre­at­ed for you.

1. Understand why you were wrong

Say­ing you were wrong is a good first step; many apolo­gies usu­al­ly leave this out. That being said, take it a bit fur­ther by explain­ing to the per­son you’re apol­o­giz­ing to why what you did was wrong.

Explain­ing why you were wrong requires you to under­stand why you were wrong. This will force you to reflect on your words and intent, and that reflec­tion will be a good exer­cise for you.

Once you come to that under­stand­ing, being forced to put that into writ­ing will also be a good exer­cise. It will fur­ther increase sen­si­tiv­i­ty and com­pre­hen­sion. And it will show the per­son you’re apol­o­giz­ing to that get­ting this right is impor­tant to you.

2. Say you’re sorry

Have you ever had some­one apol­o­gize to you by say­ing some­thing like, “I’m sor­ry you feel that way.” or “I’m sor­ry if I offend­ed you.”? These are ways peo­ple apol­o­gize with­out tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for their words or actions.

Com­pare these 3 apolo­gies:

  1. I’m sor­ry you feel as though I was jok­ing about things that are impor­tant to you.
  2. I’m sor­ry if I some­how offend­ed you with what I wrote.
  3. I’m sor­ry for doing this and for the emo­tions it cre­at­ed for you.

In the first apol­o­gy, the speak­er is putting all the respon­si­bil­i­ty on the per­son who was offend­ed: they’re try­ing to secure their inno­cence. This actu­al­ly makes their use of “I’m sor­ry” emp­ty.

The sec­ond apol­o­gy isn’t much bet­ter. It may even be worse. Not only does the speak­er absolve them­self of per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty, they aren’t even rec­og­niz­ing that they did any­thing wrong.

The third apol­o­gy, in con­trast, focus­es on the author’s actions. It rec­og­nizes that they did do some­thing wrong and that it neg­a­tive­ly impact­ed the per­son they’re apol­o­giz­ing to. By focus­ing on their own actions, the author puts the respon­si­bil­i­ty for those actions on them­self.

So, when you’re writ­ing an apol­o­gy, remem­ber those two things: under­stand why you were wrong and say you’re sor­ry.

Apol­o­giz­ing is a great way to ease ten­sions. Get­ting defen­sive and argu­men­ta­tive when called out on some­thing you said may esca­late the sit­u­a­tion. Apol­o­giz­ing helps you dif­fuse that esca­la­tion and avoid dam­ag­ing a rela­tion­ship. Plus, it shows oth­ers that you are will­ing to put aside pride and show some courage.

Do you have tech­niques that you use to write prop­er apolo­gies? Let me know in the com­ments below.

About Kim Siever

I am a copy­writer and copy­ed­i­tor. I blog on writ­ing and social media tips most­ly, but I some­times throw in my thoughts about run­ning a small busi­ness. Fol­low me on Twit­ter at @hotpepper.

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