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Sometimes we are angry of or disappointed by someone's behavior. We would feel better if that person would apologize. I know from my own experience that I find it sometimes hard to admit to a mistake, because it makes me feel guilty; even more so, unfortunately, when I wronged someone dear to me. I am sure others have this difficulty, too.

Obviously, this situation has two sides. Here I'm asking from the perspective of the wronged person who desires an apology.

What can I, as someone who desires an apology, do or say to make it easier for the other person to apologize? Inversely, what phrasing or behavior on my side make it harder for the other to apologize and should thus be avoided? The apology should still be genuine, emphasize with my point of view, and at least honestly consider to change the behavior that has hurt me.

To narrow the scope of the question: I am not particularly interested in a discussion of whether someone who desires an apology is morally responsible nor not to make it easier for the other person to say they're sorry. Let's just assume that's what I, as the wronged person, want to do, so I can get the apology I desire.

closed as too broad by anongoodnurse, Tinkeringbell, Tycho's Nose, Anne Daunted, curiousdannii Oct 23 '17 at 3:12

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I'm a bit confused by this question... You want to force the other person to apologize, but at the same time want their apology to be genuine? Or don't you want to force this other person, but what are you going to do if you don't get an apology? – Tinkeringbell Oct 22 '17 at 13:23
  • @Tinkeringbell Not force, request. Of course this request can be denied. – user510 Oct 22 '17 at 14:03
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    While I like the answer Kate Gregory gave, this is not a reasonable question to ask. Basically, you're asking, "How can I make someone apologize? The apology should still be genuine, emphasize with my point of view, and at least honestly consider to change the behavior that has hurt me." You can't make anyone do anything like that of their own free will. The best way to do that would be to write out the script you want to hear and ask the person to read it with as much conviction as they could muster. – anongoodnurse Oct 22 '17 at 14:06
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    @anongoodnurse : I usually +50 when you comment/answer, but not here. Well, we can't always agree :) apology should be genuine can't go with write out the script you want to hear. Maybe having a talk 1:1 and share the thoughts from one another: how did we get there, why did you say that, why did I answer that way. From there, with understanding on both side, apologies could come and be genuine. – OldPadawan Oct 22 '17 at 14:57
  • Has the person whose apology you are trying to facilitate, indicated or hinted they might be apologizing in the near future? – Tycho's Nose Oct 22 '17 at 15:11
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I once bought (but in the end chickened out of sending) a card that said on the front "I'd like to be the first to say I'm sorry" - those last two words were really large, so at first glance the front just says I'M SORRY. Inside it says "And I'd like you to be the second." And there is plenty of room for a note.

While I didn't send the card (demanding an apology felt wrong to me) I think it's a reasonable approach. Something has happened between you and this other person, and you can't let go of it, you're the "wronged person" and you really want to hear that apology. So take a good hard look back at the interaction. Did you get super angry right when the person transgressed and react loudly or rudely? Have you been avoiding the person ever since the incident? Note: I am not asking you to consider apologizing for your role in the incident. I presume that if you felt the incident was partly your fault, you would have apologized for that already. I am talking about afterwards, during this period of, well, sulking, or at least reconsidering the relationship.

You can apologize to the transgressor for how you reacted to the incident. Something like:

I am sorry for yelling at you on Tuesday. When you [whatever] it took me back to some dark times in my past and I was yelling at my old high school bullies [or my ex wife, or my crazy former boss, or my father] more than I was at you. Saying what I had always wanted to say when they did [whatever.]

What you did was not ok. My reaction to it was also not ok, and I'm here to apologize for it.

Most people will almost instinctively apologize when they are apologized to:

Oh my, but no, I should apologize to you, I should not have [whatever] and I realized right away that it was wrong...

But even if they just smugly accept your apology and don't apologize themselves, you have started the conversation. You can now carry on to elaborate on why [whatever] wasn't ok. You can also say things like:

It would really help me to know that you agree that [whatever] was the wrong thing to do/say and that you regret it, or will try not to repeat it.

Asking people specifically to apologize could take them back to childhood incidents where they were forced to apologize when they had done nothing wrong, such as to abusive teachers or a bullying older sibling who teased them into hitting. Asking them to say they understand they caused you pain and will try not to do it again is far more useful for you emotionally, even if they never actually say "sorry".

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An apology can consist of multiple components:

  1. Empathy. For instance, if the person made you miss your train because he was late. A good apology would start with acknowledging all the possible negative repercussions that you will personally suffer for having missed your train.

  2. A shared understanding. Maybe the story you have in your head doesn't exactly match the story he has in his head. And that's ok. Sometimes, an apology still works if the person is able to see and admit to the kernel of truth of what you're saying/thinking (again, it doesn't have to be the entire thing).

  3. The promise not to do it again. Most of the time, this is implied. That being said, sometimes it's better if the person apologizing does (1) and (2), but isn't forced to make a promise they can't keep. After all, we're only humans, sometimes we make mistakes, and sometimes things are out of our control. And sometimes, someone acknowledging our feelings and acknowledging their mistake is all that is needed to resolve the tension.

Now I'll try to answer your question by decomposing it into multiple questions:

  1. How do I trigger empathy? Or better yet, how do I trigger empathy without coming off as nagging the person? I don't know. I'll have to think about that one.

  2. How do we reach a shared understanding? Have him look for that kernel of truth into what you're saying. But for that, you must also be willing to look for the kernel of truth into what he's saying. And for either of you, I think some of the questions Byron Katie makes you ask yourself may be helpful (a good portion of her materials can also be found for free on youtube and on filesharing networks). As a bonus, her questions will also help with processing your emotions.

  3. How do we make sure this doesn't happen again? That's actually a tough one. For that one, he needs to learn assertiveness training from books like When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel J. Smith (do not rely on the title of the book to judge what it's about, read some of its customer reviews instead). Ideally, you're the one who should learn assertiveness training first. If you can get some of your needs met from him without making him feel guilty, that should improve things (I only suggest that you read the book backward since the transcripts are at the end. That's how I read the book myself and it made a lot more sense to me that way).

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Forgiveness solves the problem on your end without requiring the other person to do anything. Apologies are meant to rebuild bridges that were damaged by someone's words or actions. Forgiveness does the same thing with or without the involvement of the other party, and more importantly puts your mind at ease.

Don't get me wrong, I know that an actual apology goes a long way to help with forgiveness, but it isn't always possible or necessary. Sometimes the person you were hurt by dies before the apology comes, and sometimes interaction with the person just isn't possible or advisable.

Forgiveness feels like surrender in a lot of cases where you feel like you've been deeply hurt or wronged by someone. It's harder to let some things go, when it feels like letting go of the grudge lets the other party off the hook. I'd like to suggest that you're only letting go of the pain associated with the situation. You're not telling them that no offense was taken, or that no hurt was experienced, you're telling yourself that, with or without an apology, you don't have to carry that pain around anymore.

Also... If the person knows they need to make an apology, having forgiven them in advance makes you way more approachable, so there's that.