Originally published in the Arizona Republic / October 11, 2019

Apologizing takes courage, which is why we often avoid it. Stop avoiding it. Try the steps my 3-year-old learned. They work.  

How to apologize: The 4 lessons from childhood that still apply

By Karina Bland

When my son was little, and he did something wrong, I’d have him stand with his face to the wall for one minute for each year of his age — 3 minutes when he was 3, 8 minutes when he was 8.

When the time was up, he’d have to tell me what he did wrong, what he could do to keep it from happening again, apologize, either to me or whoever he wronged. Then I’d hug him.

Turns out that was pretty good training, said Donna Moriarty, author of the new book, Not Just Words: How a Good Apology Makes You Braver, Bolder, and Better at Life.

The ability to apologize well is a skill, Moriarty said, but not hard to learn nor to practice.

Apologizing takes courage, which is why we often avoid it even when we know it’s the right thing to do. Think about it in four steps, Moriarty said — just like my son did.

First, admit it. Acknowledge that you’ve harmed the person, whether you crashed their car, forgot a lunch date, or said something you shouldn’t.

“Don’t try to wiggle out of it or make any excuses,” Moriarty said.

The point is: Tell the person what you did wrong. (If you need to, maybe give yourself one minute for each year of your age to reflect on it.)

Second, express it, face-to-face, and use the words, “I’m sorry.” Don’t dilute it with an excuse. Don’t reverse blame: “I’m sorry you got upset about what I did.”

Imagine how the person you hurt feels. Your apology will be authentic and more heartfelt.

Third, fix it. Make it right. Pay for the damage. Buy lunch. Do something. Say something. The point is: What can you do to keep it from happening again?

Lastly, change it. Change your behavior. Make good on that promise.

(Do you seriously want to go through this again?)

“It’s never really easy, but it’s worth it,” Moriarty said. “You almost invariably feel better, and you invariably have a better relationship with the person afterward.”

There might even be a hug in it.