Most humans suck at apologies.

It’s understandable. Egos are fragile. And when we’ve caused hurt or problems for someone else, it’s instinctual to protect ourselves by listing out all the ways that “It wasn’t our fault.”

But mistakes happen. So unless we all plan to practice perfection, it’s time to brush up on our apology skills — with staff, with volunteers, with donors, with bosses and with friends and family.

The first step is often the hardest. You have to listen. And when I say listen, I mean open your ears and your heart. Why is this person frustrated? How would you feel if you were in their shoes? By starting with empathy, you are dismantling your ego defenses.

If you aren’t able to listen with your heart, the second step is extremely important. You need to take space until you are able to listen with your heart. This might be a 10-second breather — or this may be a “sleep on it” moment.

Once you can listen with your heart, you can speak from your heart. Stay connected to your breath and body and use “I statements” that acknowledge the hurt/frustration experienced by the other person. (E.g. “It makes me sad that I have caused you so much frustration.”) Avoid the temptation to rationalize your personal experience here. This step is all about letting the other person know you are connecting with them.

Once you listen and speak from your heart, you will be in a better place both somatically and cognitively to choose whether acknowledging the mistake is enough or whether you should make amends further.

Regardless of the choice you make about where to go next, by taking the time and space to connect empathetically and to dissolve your defenses, you will have sowed seeds of goodwill and good intent that will nurture the relationship.

An honest, I’m sorry can move mountains.