As anyone who has ever made an apology knows, saying "I'm sorry" is no sign of weakness but it can take a great deal of courage. While it can be difficult to accept blame and take responsibility for our offending actions, apologizing to those who are affected by them is an essential social skill and one that helps maintains good relationships.

While it can be embarrassing to admit fault, a sincere and honest apology can begin to repair broken relations and is the first step in rebuilding trust and loyalty. One of the most significant elements of an apology is recognizing that what you did was inappropriate, inconsiderate, thoughtless or careless. A good apology lets the recipient know that you understand how your action made them feel or the negative impact it had on a situation.

It's rarely enough to just say, "I'm sorry." If an apology is in order, it has to be for a specific reason so say what it is. Saying, "My response was curt and unsupportive – I apologize." or "I apologize for neglecting to…" communicates that you understand your wrongdoing.

Don’t try to concoct an excuse to cover up your mistake or make it sound like it wasn’t really your fault. Admit and take responsibility for your words and actions. An apology buried under some seemingly well-thought out excuses destroys its authenticity. It becomes an “I’m sorry but…” which basically implies that you’re innocent and, therefore, do not sincerely regret your actions. Keep it plain and direct – “I’m sorry that I said…” “I’m sorry that I didn’t…” I’m sorry that I assumed…”

You can, however, provide an explanation while you take responsibility for your actions. “I apologize for how I reacted. I was frustrated because my computer just crashed and I lashed out at you. I was really out of line. I’m sorry.”

Finally, when you apologize, know that it must be followed up by an earnest effort not to repeat the offending action.

After the Apology
It’s not as if you can hurt someone and expect that hurt to magically evaporate. While they may have accepted your apology, it takes time to rebuild trust and relationships so give them time to recover. Remember that the time they need is according to their clock, not yours, so only they can let you know when they’re feeling better.

Once you’ve made amends, you’ve got to stick to your words. If you’ve apologized and then the next day or the next week you do the same offending action, your apology isn’t worth much. If you’ve recognized that your actions were offensive once, you can be sure they’ll be offensive twice. The second time, however, is exponentially worse because you knew what the potential outcome would be. Determine what you’re going to do be ensure that the mistake won’t be made again.

While apologizing may not be easy, it is essential to maintaining good, long-term relationships.

Author's Bio: 

Laurie Wilhelm manages the Express Yourself to Success website, a one-stop e-source with information and techniques on communication skills, interpersonal skills, public speaking, networking and conflict resolution. Achieve your success by working effectively with others. Find out how you can boost your career and get a free eBook, What You Need to Succeed: Social Skills.