Relationships can be wonderful but conflicts can cause considerable emotional pain and stress. Knowing how to apologize–and when–can repair damage in a relationship, but if you don’t know how to apologize sincerely, you can actually make things worse! Effective apologies are simple if you know what to say. Here are some easy steps to help you learn how to apologize sincerely and effectively.


Here’s How:

1. Know When To Apologize
Knowing when to apologize is as important as knowing how to apologize. Generally speaking, if you suspect that something you did — on purpose or by accident — caused someone else hard feelings, it’s a good idea to apologize and clear the air. If what you did would have bothered you if it was done to you, an apology is clearly in order. If you’re not sure, an apology offers you the chance to “own” mistakes you made, but re-establish what you think was okay. If you feel the other person is being unreasonable, a discussion may be in order. You can decide where you stand on the apology after that.


2. Take Responsibility
Taking responsibility means acknowledging mistakes you made that hurt the other person, and it’s one of the most important — and neglected — ingredients of most apologies, especially those in the media. Saying something vague like, “I’m sorry if you were offended by something I said,” implies that the hurt feelings were a random reaction on the part of the other person. Saying, “When I said [the hurtful thing], I wasn’t thinking. I realize I hurt your feelings, and I’m sorry,” acknowledges that you know what it was you said that hurt the other person, and you take responsibility for it.


3. Express Regret
When seeking to understand how to apologize effectively, it’s also important to understand the value of expressing regret. Taking responsibility is important, but it’s also helpful for the other person to know that you feel badly about hurting them, and wish you hadn’t. That’s it. They already feel bad, and they’d like to know that you feel bad about them feeling bad. “I wish I had been more thoughtful.” “I wish I’d thought of your feelings as well.” “I wish I could take it back.” These are all expressions of regret that add to the sincerity of your apology, and let the other person know you care.


4. Make Amends
If there’s anything you can do to amend the situation, do it. It’s important to know how to apologize with sincerity, and part of the sincerity of an apology is a willingness to put some action into it. If you broke something of someone’s, see if you can replace it. If you said something hurtful, say some nice things that can help to generate more positive feelings. If you broke trust, see what you can do to rebuild it. Whatever you can do to make things better, do it. (And if you’re not sure what would help, ask the other person what you can do to help them to feel better.)