How To Write An Apology

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Maybe the only thing worse than realizing you're wrong is realizing you have to admit it. But, there are many times in life when an apology is called for, sometimes in written form. If you're in a position where there's no escape - you need to write an apology letter - then these steps will help you write it smoothly and effectively.  

To write an apology letter:

  1. Know your audience. It's important to write an apology letter appropriate for the person to whom you're apologizing. You'd definitely write differently to a boyfriend you hurt than you would to a client you inadvertently insulted or the adoring public that follows your movie career. Word choice, details, tone and even the length of the letter will be affected by your audience. Know what your audience expects from your "sorry."
  2. Be sincere. In an era where a new celebrity is offering a highly-stylized media-friendly apology everyday, the last thing you want to deliver to your loved one, friend or respected colleague, is a letter that seems like it was written just to "save face" or so you could cross something off your to-do list. Before you write, think about the ill feelings you may have created between yourself and the intended recipient of your letter, and think about how much you really want to set things right. Let those sincere sentiments come out in the language of your letter. Don't worry about sounding clever, eloquent, poetic, or like a Hollywood publicist. If you've really caused insult or injury to someone who matters to you, chances are what he most wants is to know you're really sorry you caused a rift in your relationship.

    Being sincere in your letter of apology means being open about what you've done wrong and about how much the damaged relationship means to you. Talk about not only how sorry you are but also about how much (and why) you want to salvage the relationship - be it romantic, friendly, or even a business partnership. It may take a little extra guts to be open, but the honesty will likely mean quite a bit to the person who you're hoping will accept the apology.

  3. Be specific. We've all seen the lame sitcom joke where the husband and wife are fighting and the husband apologizes and the wife says, "For what?" The husband replies, "I don't know, but I'm sorry." Chances are, that reply just causes more problems. If you're writing a letter and offer only a blanket apology to someone, the odds are just as good he will not feel very satisfied after reading your generic words even if the sentiment is obvious and sincere. Apologize for the specific offense so the person sees his grievance has been acknowledged. Doing so will validate his feelings.
  4. Watch your word choice and tone. If you're apologizing to someone - especially on paper - be careful with word choice and tone. If someone has been offended by you, he may be ultra-sensitive or expecting the worst. One poorly chosen word or a sentence that seems to maybe be not so "apologetic" can end up setting the situation back even further. Be as unambiguous as possible. Watch out for loaded words. Especially if you also feel any indignation, beware of any subconscious desire to push buttons - you could sabotage yourself if you let your letter turn into a continuation of an argument instead of an apology.

Whether you're mending fences, eating crow or performing some other odd metaphor, saying sorry isn't easy. But thinking before you write can help you write a letter that gets your point across to your intended audience.


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