At first glance, an article about how to say “I’m sorry” may seem a little ridiculous. Just say it, right? But there are times in life when you don’t know where you stand. You may have said something flippantly to a friend, but their reaction made it clear you hit a nerve. Or perhaps you attended a party with a particularly heavy-handed bartender. As one of our friends likes to say, “I was over-served.” Whatever the cause of your error, there are a few key things to keep in mind when saying “I’m sorry.” Following are a few points we've learned to help you write the perfect apology card.
1. “Crow tastes better warm”
2. There are no perfect words to use when saying “I’m sorry”...but there are a few necessary ones
3. Be specific, but don’t make excuses
4. The medium matters
5. Practice makes perfect
“Crow tastes better warm”
My long-time boss had a litany of hilarious and wise sayings like “Crow tastes better warm.” The saying holds particular weight when it comes to expressing contrition. Sometimes you make a mistake, and you have to “eat crow” as the old saying goes. Why not do it while the crow’s still warm, as soon as possible after realizing the error of your ways? My boss encouraged risk-taking and making mistakes was okay, but employees who hid their mistakes were going to find themselves in trouble. We moved fast and learned from mistakes, but learning from your mistakes assumes you admit to them and process what went wrong.
Similar lessons apply in our personal relationships. The longer you wait before saying you’re sorry, the more awkward you’ll feel about the perceived transgression, and the longer your friend or family member will have to potentially escalate a simple misstep into a relationship-ending disaster. As time passes, the offended party has time to think that you really don’t value your relationship—or perhaps even worse—that you didn’t even notice that you had offended them. Get over the awkwardness and just send your apology letter now!
There are no perfect words to use when saying “I’m sorry”...but there are a few necessary ones
While there is no perfect way to say “I’m sorry,” there are a few key words that must be included in any sincere apology card.
You can keep it simple, but make sure you’re not writing in circles around what you’re actually trying to say. Leading with the simple phrase “I’m sorry” will get the initial point across, freeing you up to move forward and express your desire to repair the relationship.
For a more emphatic version, try saying “I sincerely apologize." That will often do the trick. Just remember that there's nothing worse than talking around what you’re trying to say. Get the point in the first sentence and move forward from there.
You probably only need a few more sentences to express what exactly you are sorry about doing or saying. Keep it simple. We recommend writing out your note before you put pen to paper to make sure you get it right and don't ruin the greeting card you just purchased.
Be specific, but don’t make excuses
It can be helpful to be specific about exactly what you’re apologizing for. “I’m so sorry that I broke your vase at last night’s party” would be a good way to lead off, then simply follow with a couple sentences to let your host know that you enjoyed the event and would be happy to try to find a replacement for her.
Be sure to own your actions: “I’m sorry I offended you” makes it sound like it was the other person’s fault. “I’m sorry I started talking about politics in an offensive way” makes it clearer that you know you should have kept your mouth shut.
One of our new favorite cards just says "Sorry My Dog Was an Asshole" —hilarious, to the point, and unfortunately quite necessary for our friends who requested the design as they work through behavior issues with their (generally) sweet pup.
The medium mattersA simple misstatement in a conversation with a close friend may be corrected easily with a quick text message. But when you really want to show some gravitas or break the ice after a more heated argument or potentially serious offense, you need something a bit more intentional. Show them you really mean it by finding a nice physical greeting card that explains the sentiment and gives you some room to show that you went to a little extra effort to make sure your friend knows you really care about the relationship.
We’re big fans of humor at Lost Art, and that can certainly help lighten the mood, especially for minor offenses. One of our best-selling cards takes this idea and makes it easy on you. Our “regrets his/her behavior” cards have a simple line for your name and the date. These are clearly intended to be funny while acknowledging that the previous night might have been a little out of hand. This has been a popular bridesmaid’s gift when the bride-to-be can pretty much assume her besties are going to get out of hand somewhere in the process of making sure she has the best wedding ever.
Also, don’t think that you have to mail your apology card. Dropping by your friend’s office and including a small gift like a chocolate bar can be a great way to add that extra bit of sentiment to really get back in their good graces.
Practice makes perfect
Saying sorry can be awkward and a little scary. Like any part of living an intentional life, saying sorry gets easier with repetition. Apologizing is inevitable unless you’re perfect and I have a feeling you wouldn’t have read this far if you thought you were perfect. No one likes perfect people anyways, so don’t take yourself so seriously and get in the habit of repairing rifts right when they occur. Don’t let a good friend become an acquaintance over something insignificant.
If you’ve already let a gap form or if your transgression was more severe than what we’ve been discussing here, consider asking for professional help. There’s no shame in speaking with a therapist, and a good one can help you with a strategy for repairing more serious damage to a relationship. But as I said in my first point above, the sooner you can start the process the better. It’s much more difficult to show that you’re sorry after becoming estranged from someone you care about.
What have you learned from making an apology? This highly unscientific list comes from our personal experience. I'm sure you all have some great lessons to share as well. Let us know in the comments, and be sure to check out our variety of sorry cards that can assist when you need to make amends. Better yet, sign up for our stationery subscription box and never be without the perfect card.
Header photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash