How do you apologize?
Here are some tips from Elizabeth Bernstein, Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies and Sociology at Barnard College:
Know what you did wrong. If you’re not sure, ask.
Show real remorse. Don’t say “I’m sorry you are hurt,” which suggests the person is too sensitive. Say “I am sorry I hurt you.”
Don’t be defensive. Don’t use the word “but,” as in, “I am sorry, but…”
Offer to make changes. It helps to say, sincerely, that you will try not to make the same offense again.
According to Dr Bernstein, there are six levels of sincerity when it comes to saying “sorry.”
Ranking common apologies, from most to least:
1. THE HEARTFELT APOLOGY
A completely earnest and well-intentioned mea culpa, demonstrating that you both understand – and regret – the pain you inflicted.
Scenario: “I’m so sorry I understand that I hurt you. It won’t happen again.”
2. THE STRATEGIC APOLOGY
Not entirely sincere, offered up to end a fight or to stop the other person from hurting. You may not feel that you’ve done anything wrong.
Scenario: “I’m sorry. Let’s move on.”
3. THE DEFENSIVE APOLOGY
A self-protective, half-baked (and therefore rarely effective) maneuver meant to defend your actions as much as offer contrition.
Scenario: “I’m sorry, but…”
4. THE CONTINGENT APOLOGY
Used when you want to appease a person but don’t know what you’ve done wrong – or don’t care. “If” is the keyword here.
Scenario: “I’m sorry if I’ve done something wrong.”
5. THE TOO-LATE APOLOGY
An expression of regret that comes days, months, or years too late.
Scenario: “I realize now that what I did was wrong.”
6. THE BULLY APOLOGY
Entirely insincere, tended only to manipulate the recipient into some action or to serve as a Band-Aid on bad behavior.
Scenario: “Sorry to dump this report on you at 5pm.”