Women apologize way too much; hey, we’re all socialized with that expectation. Because of this, one might think that when the times comes for us to say “I’m sorry” to someone who actually deserves it, we’d be rockstars at it. But unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Saying these two little words can be quite a trying task, even when we really think we mean them and despite knowing that they’re imperative to mending and maintaining all of our relationships.
Nick Hobson, director of science for PsychologyCompass and a behavioral scientist who researches emotional functioning, makes it simple with his step-by-step instructions.
1. Do it face-to-face
As it does most things, technology can convolute apologies too. For this reason, Hobson recommends you apologize to someone in person rather than via email, text, or even a phone call. “The sincerity in social cues will come through much more in person,” he says. “There’s far too much ambiguity in word use and tone that gets lost. It will only make things worse.” An in-person apology might be intimidating, but in the end, you owe it to them.
2. Actually mean it
And, of course, for any apology to prove effective, the apologizer must be genuinely sorry for their words or actions. Fake apologies are fairly transparent, Hobson says, especially thanks to body language, tone, etc., if you’re following instruction #1. As much as not apologizing for your words and actions will weaken a relationship, a feigned apology can tank things even faster.
3. Take responsibility
Most people love talking about themselves, so why not keep it up when saying you’re sorry? Cue the “I” statements! “The apology should include an acknowledgment of personal responsibility,” explains Hobson. “What a lot of people tend to do is offer an apology saying where they went wrong.” This will mean a lot more to a person than blaming their hurt feelings on an outside factor — or worse, on them.
4. Provide context
This is the one part of an apology when you’re able to explain your understanding of where things went wrong and why. But this step leaves room for some big mistakes, such as, say, sounding like you’re trying to justify or excuse your behavior. Ensure the context is about reassuring the person you hurt that you understand where you went wrong and how to prevent it from recurring — not about making yourself look better. “After explaining what happened, the person apologizing should add the important caveat that, despite the rationale, they still recognize what they did was wrong, selfish, mean, etc.,” Hobson says.
5. Make up for it
Anyone who’s received an empty apology has been able to identify it after the fact because the person kept up their problematic behavior. “A person feeling wronged by another will be looking for some honest signal that says they’re not going to do it again,” asserts Hobson. “A key tactic, then, is to build in the apology, at the moment or shortly after, an act of generosity or kindness.” Taking the time to ensure they feel appreciated and cared for by you after breaking their trust is paramount to rebuilding your relationship.
What’s your “I’m sorry” strategy? Let us know @BritandCo.
This article first appeared on Brit + Co.