The right (and wrong) way to apologize

Ben Tinker, CNN | 11/14/2017, 6 a.m.
There is a right way and a wrong way to apologize, psychologists say. Over the course of the past two ...

Express remorse, by saying "I'm sorry" or "I apologize," as well as regret, by saying "I feel terrible" or "I regret it."

Accept responsibility by stating, "I take full responsibility" or "I'm truly sorry for" whatever you did.

Offer to repair the problem you caused by saying what you will do to fix it or by telling the person you've hurt how you honestly feel about them.

If appropriate, Schumann says, an apology may require additional elements:

An explanation of your words or actions.

A promise that you will behave better in the future.

Acknowledgment that you understand how your victim has suffered.

Admission of wrongdoing, such as "It was wrong of me to say the things I said" or "I shouldn't have spoken poorly about you."

A request for forgiveness.

Equally important to what you do or say is what you don't do or don't say.

"Transgressors may ... try to protect themselves from the negative consequences of committing an offense by responding with defensive strategies," Schumann said. "These defensive strategies can be temporarily beneficial to the transgressor by helping restore his or her self-worth but may do so at the cost of aggravating the victim and hindering reconciliation."

Four things, she says, can torpedo even those most well-intentioned apologies:

Justifying your words or actions by defending your behavior: "I'm sorry that I kicked you out, but I did it for the right reasons."

Blaming your victim for any or all of what you did or said: "If you gave me more freedom, I wouldn't feel the need to be dishonest."

Making excuses: "I was busy and in a hurry."

Minimizing or downplaying the consequences of your actions: "I'm sorry if I upset you"; "it's in the past"; "it was just a joke."

"One of the unfortunate certainties of life is that we sometimes hurt people we care about," Schumann wrote. "But if managed well, hurtful events can be transformed into constructive experiences that might even improve the relationship between the transgressor and the victim."