“I’m sorry you feel that way” is one of those apologies that don’t exactly leave the person falling all over themselves to forgive you.
If you’re looking for forgiveness, or trying to repair a damaged relationship, there are two elements you can’t afford to leave out of your apology.
What and Why?
An effective apology conveys that…
1. You understand what you did, and
2. You know why it was hurtful/inappropriate/downright wrong.
Notice the “why” in the 2nd part isn’t why you said or did the thing you said or did; it’s why it was hurtful or wrong.
Don’t offer explanations for your actions unless you also address the “what” and the “why” above. They’ll be seen as excuses for poor behavior and won’t help your case.
A good apology starts with “I’m sorry I … “
A poor apology begins with “I’m sorry you … ” (Unless it’s “I’m sorry you had to put up with MY … “)
“I’m sorry my tone was so harsh when I asked you to do the dishes. I was frustrated and I took it out on you. I shouldn’t have.”
“I shouldn’t have borrowed your car without asking. I’m very sorry.”
“I’m sorry for my part in what happened yesterday. I really regret saying you were behaving badly; looking back on it, I was being a terrible listener.”
With these apologies, you’re taking ownership of your words and actions, which helps to melt the other person’s defenses.
You’re not attacking them, you’re offering validation. You can see things from their point of view. And you’re demonstrating remorse.
“I’m sorry you felt I was being rude”
“I’m sorry your feelings got hurt.”
“I know I’m not perfect and I’m sorry.”
The first two admit no responsibility, and the third is too vague. “I’m not perfect” isn’t very satisfying to the listener; what did you DO that you regret? They need to know you know this.
Asking for Forgiveness
After you’ve apologized, you’re not quite done yet. Tell the person how important the relationship is to you. No need to make anything up or overdo it.
Here are some examples:
Spouse or partner: “I love you, and I hate hurting your feelings. You’re so important to me.”
Friend: “I value our friendship, and I hope I haven’t damaged it beyond repair.”
Colleague: “I hope I haven’t ruined our working relationship; I think you bring a lot to the team.”
UPS guy or gal, hot dog vendor, cab driver, etc.: There’s no need to affirm a very casual relationship. If it’s borderline, you can always say, “I’m glad we were able to clear the air.”
When you sense that the ice has melted, only then is it appropriate to ask, “Can you forgive me?”
Requesting forgiveness is totally optional. If you don’t need that sort of official seal, don’t worry about it.
But if you offer a fabulous apology, don’t be surprised if the other person feels compelled to say, “I totally forgive you!”
PS. Are you a parent who wants to apologize to your grown child? You’ll find more tips, insights and advice in the Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children.