How To Apologize - Part Two

So sorry in West Los Angeles!

How to Apologize For That Thing You Didn't Do...

Last week we discussed what to say when you have done or said something you regret. But what about when someone you care about demands an apology for something you don’t regret saying? Someone has hurt feelings, and is blaming you, but you don’t think you are really responsible for how they feel. After all, everyone is responsible for their own feelings, right?

Well, it’s certainly true that you cannot control someone else’s responses to what you say and do. And it’s certainly also true that sometimes people get offended when no offense was intended, or even implied. Some people are just extremely sensitive.

But sometimes those sensitive people are your partner, or your best friend, or your boss.

A good apology in West Los Angeles

Learning to gracefully apologize when you don’t agree that there has even been an offense in the first place can be a relationship-saving skill. Sometimes your best move is to just suck it up and apologize in order to keep the peace, keep your relationship, or keep your job.

As in last week’s blog, How to Apologize – Part One, this week’s blog is based on ideas from Harriet Lerner’s wonderful book, Why Won’t You Apologize?

Here are the steps to apologize with sincerity and integrity when you don’t feel you’ve done anything wrong:

1. Recognize your defensiveness

You are going to want to explain why you did nothing wrong, but there is a very good reason not to do this: It. Won’t. Work.

Resist this urge; it will make things worse in the long run.

2. Breathe slowly and deeply

Sounds silly, but there is an actual physiological reason for this. Deep diaphragmatic breathing (you know, when you inhale until your stomach poofs out) will help activate the parasympathetic nervous system–the one that tells your body to relax.

3. Thank the other person for sharing their feelings

In fact, it is a good thing that they told you, because that gives you a chance to clear the air. It’s so much better than if they had held a silent grudge. Try to hold on to that thought!

4. Don’t’ listen when you can’t listen well

If you just can’t stop yourself from being defensive, it’s okay to postpone the discussion. Tell them you want to hear everything they have to say, but you need to do it another time (soon– be specific if you can, e.g., “Let’s talk about this tomorrow after lunch”).

5. Listen in order to understand (not in order to form a good counter-argument!

Focus on what they are saying and reflect back in your own words to make sure they feel you have understood them.

6.  Ask questions to clarify so that you understand better.

Stay curious. You are not just doing this for them! You will feel better if you understand where they are coming from. Trust me here; if you can uncover what in their history lead them to feel offended (there’s always something!) you will realize that it’s not about you–rather, you triggered an old hurt inside of them. It will really help you to feel empathy, rather than defensiveness. And that’s better for your mood and your blood pressure!

7.  Find something you can agree with and apologize for your part.

This can be something pretty small, but it’s an important step. It will be a lot easier if you have already done step 6, because you will see that whatever you did, and however innocent it was, it really did hurt the other person. To learn more about the best way to do this, be sure to read How To Apologize – Part One.

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8.  Let them know you will want to talk more about this later.

This shows them they have been heard and that you will continue to think about the conversation. More importantly, this shows them that you value their feelings, whether or not you agree with their conclusions.

9. Define your differences

You don’t have to agree with everything; the point is just to listen to the other person’s feelings. But be careful–it might be better to save this part for a future conversation if you think you won’t be heard right now.

10.   Take the initiative to bring the conversation up again.

This step needs it’s own explanation– See the following:

What to say when you bring it up again (verbally or in a letter):

1.  Appreciate them for expressing their feelings

However badly they did it! (But, umm… don’t say that!)

2.  No implied criticism or blame

Again, stay away from defensiveness.

Remember, defensiveness is when you are arguing for your side. You are allowed to merely state (hopefully in a gentle way!) that you disagree with certain points.

Thinking about apologizing in West Los Angeles

3.  Let them know you’ve been thinking about what they said, and working to understand.

This is a process, and it might take a while. Let them know you are willing to continue to discuss this until you both feel better about it.

4. Focus on your own feelings

Describe what you would like for your relationship without getting preachy. Think big picture. Tell them it is important to you to stay close and connected, and to be able to discuss feelings and differences.

After all, people can’t be deeply connected without being able to discuss their different feelings and their different opinions.

How to be clear about what is a “feeling” and what is an “opinion”, (or thought), is an important skill, and a topic for another blog post coming up soon!

5. Don’t go on too long; make your point and leave the door open for them to contact you when they’re ready.

Brevity is desirable–it keeps the focus on the apology, and deters you from having time to get defensive (always a temptation–we’re all human, after all!)

 Speaking of brevity, I have decided to put the rest of my review of the principles from Harriet Lerner’s excellent book, Why Won’t You Apologize, in a separate blog post.

So stayed tuned for actionable tips on “How to get someone else to apologize to you”, and “How to respond to an apology”!

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 If you are tormented by a relationship where someone needs to make an apology; if you feel betrayed by someone important to you; if you feel guilty about something you did or said, or just confused about why certain relationships make you feel particularly yukky, (that’s the technical term!) then therapy might be a great option for you!

Therapy can help you sort things out– help you clarify your goals for the relationship, and how to take the steps necessary to achieve them.

Please give me a call at 323-999-1537, or email me at, or click the button below to sign up for a free consultation, either on the phone or in my office, to discuss your specific situation and how I can help!