If during a difficult conversation you need to apologize do it, and do it right: don't offer pseudo-apologies or incomplete apologies.
“Pseudo” literally means “bogus,” and pseudo-apologies are nothing more than passive-aggressions that only make things worse. Is saying “I’m sorry you’re stupid and didn’t get it” an apology or an offense “in disguise”? Of course, you can tell the difference. (So it’s not a good disguise, I’d say.)
And incomplete apologies may get you a “No problem” but won’t get you true forgiveness.
Be careful with that, because you don’t want to protect your ego or pride at the expense of hurting your loved ones or leaving potential enemies wounded, waiting for a chance for payback.
An adequate apology needs to include four elements—you need to
Explicitly say the words “I apologize” (no, they’re not implicit).
State what you apologize for.
Validate the other person’s feelings, making clear you understand the damage you inflicted on him or her. (This is what people need to be willing and able to forgive you).
Commit to what you’ll do to prevent it from happening again.
Here’s an example:
I apologize for coming in late this morning. I can see how covering up for me without knowing if I’d show up or not must have been stressful for you. From now on I will leave home 15 minutes earlier to ensure it won’t happen again.
It sounds very different than “I’m sorry,” doesn’t it? It’s solution-oriented, and it indeed doesn’t seem weak!
Imagine Ethan, one of your co-workers, told you something like, “Wow, Marcy, you're slow! You're too old for this job. Maybe it's time to retire,” and he's not a friend of yours who's just joking. Your boss heard it, and he tells Ethan he needs to apologize. Would it be enough for you if Ethan said: “Okay, sorry”? It might seem he’s saying it only to comply or get you off his back, but he’s not getting what he did wrong or giving you any reason to trust he’ll make any effort at all to avoid doing it again.
It’s crucial that you apologize appropriately—apologies matter.They reduce anger and aggression, and they promote forgiveness and the well-being of relationships. [i]
Without being overly apologetic, show how considerate and humble you are by offering your apologies when you have offended the other person.
Show also your self-esteem by requesting an appropriate apology from the other party when it is you who have been offended. There’s nothing wrong with you asking whoever offended you to clarify his apology by asking questions such as, 'What will you do to ensure it won’t happen again?'”