11 ways to deliver a genuine apology without losing face

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Far too many people avoid apologizing because they fear losing face. 

They don’t want to feel humiliated or shamed by admitting fault. 

But there are effective ways to say sorry that won’t leave you feeling lessened.

 1) Know why you’re apologizing

When you make a mistake or somebody is upset at you, you may be used to apologizing automatically. 

There’s a problem with this:

It’s not sincere. 

When you say sorry without knowing why, you’re generally not really that sorry, or at least you’re not expressing it well. 

The result can be that your apology is taken as bogus or only motivated by convention. 

That’s why it’s key to know why you want to apologize and for what before doing so.

With that in mind, there are two basic reasons to say sorry: strategically or sincerely. 

 2) Say sorry strategically

There are plenty of situations in life where you are dealing with aggressive, rude, and unfair people

This could be at work or in your personal life.

When situations come up where you feel like you should say sorry or are expected to say sorry but you aren’t sorry and see no reason to be, it can still be smart to say sorry strategically. 

In this case, you are apologizing for something to gain breathing room and establish a compromise. 

You’re getting someone off your toes, essentially and offering them an apology in return for them also recognizing that some of their own behavior hasn’t been great. 

 3) Say sorry unreservedly

The second option is to say sorry sincerely and unreservedly when something really is you at fault and you have no excuse for it.

In this case, you are apologizing because you have actually done something wrong, overlooked something important or approached a person or situation in a way that is unacceptable.

You have a firm “why” for saying sorry: you feel guilty and ashamed of the pain and suffering you have caused.

You also want to assure the victim or victims that it won’t happen again and that you are aware of the damage you did. 

You also potentially want to make up for what you did, which I will discuss a bit further down here. 

4) Apologize as soon as possible

As long as you know why you’re apologizing, you shouldn’t sit on an apology. 

It could make your eventual apology come across as calculated or insincere, plus it will lead to the feeling that you avoided saying sorry or only did so out of being talked into it or necessity.

“The first thing to realize is the earlier you apologize, the less likely you are to lose your dignity,” advises Tessa Schlesinger

As soon as you’re aware of what you want to apologize for, go ahead and do it. 

You’ll save face by just owning up to what you did and apologizing, rather than waiting too long to speak to somebody.

5) Choose your words correctly 

There are those who say sorry in online messages or over text, instead of face-to-face. This is one way that some try to save face, but in my view, it accomplishes the opposite. 

It’s important to apologize in person, and if that’s not possible at least make a phone call or audio call.

Choose the words you want to say carefully and ensure that you’re not just blindly apologizing for everything under the sun. 

This goes back to what I was saying in the first point about knowing why you’re apologizing.

6) Say sorry, but just once 

It’s a bit ironic, but over-apologizing has ruined many apologies. 

It makes you come across as desperate for forgiveness and even not that sincere. 

Just apologize once. Say you’re sorry and mean it. Offer your contrition, that’s all you can do. 

Forgiveness is up to the other person or party involved, not you. 

You just have the power to start by saying you’re sorry and really meaning it, or at least really having a good reason to say sorry. 

7) Acknowledge the hurt you’ve caused

When apologizing, it’s important to acknowledge the hurt you’ve caused. 

You may be saying sorry to somebody you dislike or even somebody who also hurt you in the past. 

You may be apologizing to a person who you believe overexaggerated the effects of what happened. 

But your job isn’t to judge the scale of their pain or whether it’s justified. 

Your job also isn’t to defend or explain why you did what you did (unless they ask or demand an answer!)

Your job is just to say sorry for the pain they felt and mean it. 

8) Admit fault without being self-deprecating

There’s an honorable way to say sorry and a cringe way. 

When you say sorry by making fun of yourself or making yourself into a horrible villain, it’s too much. 

The best way to do this is to say that you know you did something wrong or said something wrong and you’re sorry. 

Don’t apologize for being you. 

Don’t apologize for other things that have nothing to do with the subject. 

Focus on apologizing for the actual matter at hand and still have respect for yourself and your value. 

9) Suggest real solutions

Saying sorry is a crucial thing to do when you’ve overstepped or hurt somebody in some way

But solutions are even better. 

Instead of only saying you’re sorry, you can also suggest some words, actions or steps you can take to ensure it doesn’t happen again or that the issue is more fully addressed. 

What can be done to avoid this kind of pain in the future?

What do you vow to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

Be specific here, since it will add credibility and weight to your apology as a whole. 

10) Promise to do better next time

Saving face when apologizing is all about apologizing for an actual reason and making it mean something. 

Not every harmful action or word can be fixed. 

But it can be apologized for. 

And to the extent that you can actually make up for what happened, you should promise to do better next time and actually mean it. 

After all, the proof is in the pudding. 

11) Be ready for recompense

Promising not to repeat your mistakes or harmful actions is an excellent part of any apology. 

But it’s much more effective to actually try to make up for what you did

If you apologize for negatively impacting your friend’s career, try to help her find a new job!

If you’re sorry for speaking disrespectfully to your girlfriend, take her for a vacation. 

There’s almost always something you can do that at least takes some step towards making up for whatever you did wrong.

Apologizing is good, but making up for what you did is 100 times better. 

Is it too late now to say sorry? 

When it comes to saying sorry without humiliating yourself, just remember not to panic. 

As Avery Blank writes:

“When you make a mistake, it’s natural to panic, apologize profusely, or get defensive–and aggravate the situation more.”

Instead, think about a way to apologize that maintains your dignity but is still sincere and meaningful. 

It’s never too late to say sorry. 

Whether or not that apology will be accepted is another matter, but you have the ability to apologize for as long as the recipient is alive. 

If they won’t pick up the call or answer your number, send an e-mail or message on social media. 

If they won’t see you in person, send a letter. 

It’s never too late to say sorry, and it can be one of the most empowering things you ever do.

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