8 Tips on How to Write a Well-Crafted and Heartfelt Apology Letter
By Hannah Warren
Are you feeling guilty and not sure how to rectify the situation? Are you worried about getting into an argument if you talk to that person again face-to-face? Whether you’ve wronged someone you love or just a neighbor you don’t want to feel awkward around, an apology letter can be the best way to patch things up.
In the words of Elton John, sorry seems to be the hardest word, and it’s no surprise, given how proud and stubborn we can all be! Since we’re not currently living in a world where it’s possible to visit someone’s home and apologize in-person due to COVID-19, our next best option is a written apology.
However, while a letter allows you to get out everything you want to say without being interrupted, there is no body language to interpret. So what can you do to make sure the person you’re writing to truly understands how much you regret hurting them, and that you want to make it up to them?
Here are 8 things you should do:
1. Give It to Them Straight
And no, this doesn’t mean being sassy or sarcastic; this means offering up a straight apology, without any ifs, ands or buts. (Unless the reason you’re apologizing is butt-related!) That means no lying, no subtly shifting the blame to them, someone else, or your kids! The best thing you can do is take responsibility, even if it wasn’t entirely in your control.
2. Describe What Happened
It’s easy just to throw out random apologetic language, but the only true way to let your loved one, friend or colleague know that you genuinely know why you should be sorry is by recanting the situation. You don’t have to go into too much detail, but a quick mention of the scenario will help to drive home the point that you take responsibility for your part in the problem.
3. Use Your Own Language
If you use a template or get someone else to write it for you, the chances are that it’ll be clear that these aren’t your words – so don’t do it! If someone else writes it, it will never be heartfelt.
Also, keep in mind the actual language you use. If you have commonly-used phrases or ways of speaking, try to pepper them into your letter, so that it comes across as conversational and not overly formal. It’s also important not to be too dramatic or verbose either – you don’t want to come across as insincere. Try to be aware of any language barriers or differences if the person you’re apologizing to isn’t from the same place you are.
4. Own Your Mistake
It can be very difficult to admit to having messed up, and many of us may even see it as a sign of weakness. But by trying to shift the blame, play down what you did or even write defensively, you are already nullifying your apology and eradicating any credibility it may have had. You should also avoid excuses – one commonly used excuse for bad behavior is the classic “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” “I didn’t realize this would upset you so much,” or even “I’m sorry you’ve reacted to this so strongly.”All these phrases, particularly the latter, shift the responsibility of this disharmony onto the other person. You’re essentially saying,“this wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t so sensitive!” Don’t do this: it won’t be received well, and it shouldn’t be. It’s lazy and defensive, and you can do better!
5. Tell Them Your Plans to Make Amends
In some cases, a heartfelt apology is enough.But in others, it may be necessary to implement a plan to ensure that this never happens again. If this is the case, then let the other person know what your plan is.
For example, If you’re apologizing for something you personally did, it might sound something like “since we last spoke, I have read up on that topic. I now know why my comment was disrespectful, and I plan to move forward with this knowledge and use it to ensure that this won’t happen again.”
Or, if you’re apologizing on someone else’s behalf, it may sound like “I have given my employee a formal warning and can assure you that this behavior will not be tolerated at this company.” Of course, these are just examples, and each scenario will differ. See this link for examples you can read for inspiration – no copying!
6. Prepare for a Reply (or Lack Thereof)
You may have written a beautiful, heartfelt letter in which you feel you’ve poured out your heart and soul, but there’s every chance that it won’t be accepted or that you simply won’t hear back from them if they’re a relative stranger. Depending on the severity of what has happened, you may actually need to offer up more than a letter, and you won’t know what that is until the other person responds. Of course, if you’re writing a letter to a roommate to apologize for accidentally using their laundry detergent, the chances are that it’ll be dismissed and maybe even laughed at. Still, again, you should be able to “read the room” and identify the way forward, should your letter be rejected.
There’s also a chance that you’ll simply need to give the other person time after you send your letter, or even that they’ll never fully forgive you. Once you send the letter, consider your part in the incident over until, or if, they get back to you.
7. Don’t Focus on How You Feel
If you’re writing an apology letter, it will be pretty clear that your feelings are that of guilt, sadness and regret. So don’t get caught up in sharing how your mistake has made you feel. Not only will this undermine all of your previous grovelling, it will also likely irritate the reader further! Apologize and share, but don’t grovel or tell them how it’s been keeping you up at night.
8. Ask for Forgiveness
This might seem a little over the top, but honestly, when you’ve been wronged, it’s nice to be in a position where you have the power to either accept or decline someone’s apology. You don’t necessarily have to phrase it as a question, just a simple “I hope you can forgive me,” before signing off is often enough.
Finally, remember that every situation is different, and sometimes a letter of apology just won’t cut it. In other cases, a full-length letter might seem like too much. But the only way you can be absolutely certain that you did the best possible thing in the fallout of a disagreement is to be earnest. There’s a lot to be said for saying, “I messed up. I’m sorry, I feel terrible, and this won’t happen again.”
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