How to Apologize Effectively

How to Apologize Effectively

How to Apologize Effectively

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” Matthew 5:23-24 (NLT)

I decided to take a break from discussing insecurity this week.  I promise we’ll go back to it!  I stumbled onto something pretty cool this past week that I thought I’d share with you.  I think you’ll like it too!  It’s a free personal profile to discover your “apology language”.

I’m a HUGE fan of Dr. Gary Chapman, who is best known for his New York Times bestseller: The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts and the series of books that go along with it.  A few years ago I was listening to one of the Focus on the Family podcasts, and Dr. Chapman was discussing the Five Love Languages and how there are also five languages of apology.  He’s co-authored a book with Dr. Jennifer Thomas titled When Sorry Isn’t Enough: Making Things Right with Those You Love in which they detail the study of apologies and how people give and receive them.  Listening to the podcast, I found this very intriguing because I’ve noticed myself sometimes having a hard time receiving somebody’s apology simply because of the delivery or because it didn’t feel genuine to me.  Dr. Chapman mentioned that “If you receive an apology that omits your apology language, chances are you won’t fully accept it or even recognize it as an apology.”  The goal of their book was to help people “learn the techniques to effectively recognize and deliver apologies and watch relationships thrive as a result”.

The five basic languages of apology are:

  1. Accept Responsibility—this is basically just admitting you are wrong and accepting full responsibility for your actions
  2. Expressing Regret—this is a genuine “I’m sorry” and show of remorse for causing pain
  3. Make Restitution—in this form of apology you commit to making things right
  4. Genuinely Repent—this shows the sincere desire to modify your behavior and future actions
  5. Request Forgiveness—in this apology language you recognize the need for forgiveness, and you physically ask for forgiveness

I follow Dr. Chapman on Twitter (@DrGaryChapman), and this past week I clicked on one of his tweets about practically speaking the love languages (I always love learning more).  It took me to his website where I discovered the profile designed to help you discover your apology language.  Instantly I remembered hearing about the apology languages a few years back, and the weird thing is that the previous week in one of my classes about conflict resolution I had JUST discussed how people apologize differently and about hearing Dr. Chapman talk about it years ago.  I’m telling you, I was freakin’ excited!  I immediately took the online profile (took about 10 minutes).  Tracy's Apology Language Profile Results

My results didn’t surprise me, but they made a lot of sense.  I kind of had the feeling, “Well, that explains it!”  My primary language is Accept Responsibility, with Expressing Regret as a close second.  It’s very true—I want to hear people say “I’m wrong” and to actually hear the words “I’m sorry” come out of their mouth.  To me, anything else is beating around the bush.  However, the cool thing is that I also had a small paradigm shift (I had the same thing happen after I took the love language profile years ago).  I learned about the other languages, and even though they may not be my preferred language, they very well might be someone else’s.  Now I will be able to recognize a genuine apology (even if it’s not in my preferred language) because I will see that the other person is simply apologizing in their own preferred apology language.  This is very helpful because we can’t always MAKE someone apologize to us in the way that we want.

Along the lines of making apologies, I also recently read an excellent blog post by about a better way to apologize that we’ve started practicing in our home.  The idea is to use four phrases when apologizing.  I’ve noticed that it fits perfectly with the apology languages because it hits almost all five apology preferences.

How to apologize better:

  1. I’m sorry for… (Expressing Regret)
  2. It was wrong because… (Accept Responsibility)
  3. In the future, I will… (Genuinely Repent)
  4. Will you please forgive me? (Request Forgiveness)

The only language missing is Make Restitution, which could be included by adding a statement or action referencing what you will do to make it right (Note: Dr. Chapman recommends making restitution in the other person’s primary love language in order for the apology to be most effective).  Apologizing in this way will trigger each and every person’s apology language and show that you are sincere.  How to Apologize in 4 steps

Take some practical steps:

  • Take the Apology Language Profile

  • Learn about your own preferences, BUT also study the others so that you will be able to effectively recognize when other people are just using their own apology language preference

  • Start using the 4 (or 5) step approach to apologizing:  I’m sorry for…, It was wrong because…, In the future, I will…, Will you please forgive me? (and attempt to make some sort of restitution)

**Next week, we’ll head back to overcoming insecurity and discuss how to stop comparing ourselves to other people.

What does it take for you to feel like an apology is sincere? What new insight have you gained from learning about different ways of apologizing?  Leave a comment below (or click “Read in browser>>” if you’re viewing through e-mail).

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If you have benefited from this post or if you know anyone that could benefit from this, please pay it forward and share this post with them via the sharing links below! “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 1 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)

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4 thoughts on “How to Apologize Effectively

  1. MC

    Thank you for the test. I have taken the love languages and the apology is such a big part. I have shared this with my friends and boyfriend. I hope to better understand them so our relationships can be stronger.

    1. Tracy Robbins Post author

      That’s a great idea to learn your friend’s languages. It really would make relationships and the communication w/in them stronger. I know it’s already helped me tremendously to know my husband’s love languages. Now I just need to learn his apology language. 🙂 What were your primary apology language preferences?

  2. Lisa Mouw

    Thanks for the effective steps in teaching our kids to be more sincere in apologizing! I am a teacher, and we have been working on a revising our behavior policy as a school. We were able to incorporate these steps in how we nurture our kids to take ownership of their choices and to restore relationships.

    1. Tracy Robbins Post author

      My pleasure, Lisa! I wish I could take credit for coming up with the steps. I’m just passing along some great information that I came across myself. I’m thrilled that you are able to use this in your school! I have already seen some amazing benefits of these steps in my own home. I even got to use them with my husband the other day when I got a bit snippy with him…oops. 🙂 Thank you for being an amazing teacher that makes a difference in the lives of kids. More schools could benefit from what you and your school are doing–especially in a world full of entitlement and blame-shifting.

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