This Forgiveness Flowchart Pinpoints Exactly Why Your Apologies Sometimes Fall Flat

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Do you suck at saying sorry? Admitting where you messed up isn't always easy, especially when you get hung up on, well, "buts." Like, "I'm sorry I drank too many gimlets at your cousin's wedding, but who puts a three tier cake in the middle of a dance floor?" Point is, how to apologize to someone the right way is something learned, not ingrained in you. And if you're having trouble, we have an easy flowchart that can set you up on the right path toward an accepted apology.

Created by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy, authors of No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work, the flowchart hits the three major points that'll make your apology effective or insincere. You and I can handle three simple points, right? When we skip down the graph, we're asked to analyze the following:

  1. Did you admit that you made a mistake by acknowledging what went down, and have you expressed empathy about the exact reason someone was snubbed or hurt?
  2. When you said you were sorry, did you like, literally say "I'm sorry"? And if those words came out of your mouth, did they follow with a period or a qualifier ("I'm sorry you felt that way)?
  3. Did you suggest a way you're going to Be Better in the future?


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So bad news if your last apology didn't hit one or any of those marks: you might need a do-over. Using the flowchart's tips, I composed a script of a simple yet full-bodied apology. The anatomy is as follows:

"I'm sorry. I know I forgot to book both of us for Wednesday night's Pilates class. You must have felt really upset when you showed up in your work-out French braid and couldn't even put it to good use. I know how long it takes to do that French braid. In the future I'll set a reminder in my phone to reserve a spot for both of us. Your beach waves look great, by the way."

Plug in whatever and however you effed up, and it should work. See, you say sorry, you say why you're sorry, you exhibit understanding of why someone's ticked off, you offer a solution. Apology accepted! The compliment is just a cherry on top, IMHO. So the next time you need to do damage control with a loved one, keep the flow chart at hand so your apology lands with perfect 10s from all the judges.

Delivered the apology but still living the secondhand embarrassment? Here's one psychologist's future-forward tip for embracing your mistakes. And if you're on the opposite end of a things, here's what to know about forgiveness.

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