Apologizing to another person is often difficult because it requires humbling ourselves and admitting that we did something wrong. When we offend or otherwise hurt a friend it tests the durability of the friendship. However, apologizing for a wrongdoing, if done quickly and correctly, can actually strengthen your relationship.
Personal relationships are probably the most important thing that we have in this life, and they must be treated with great care. When you realize that you have damaged a relationship and need to apologize to your friend, you should:
1. Recognize that what you did was wrong, and take full responsibility. Before you can apologize, you must first recognize that you have hurt or wronged your friend. No matter what the circumstances were, acknowledge that you made a mistake, and take responsibility for your actions. Don't try to share the blame with others or make excuses.
2. Act quickly. Once you realize that you have harmed your friend, it is generally best to make amends as soon as possible. Though you may feel it wise to let your friend have a little bit of time to cool off, you don't want to wait too long. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will likely be to apologize. Moreover, by waiting, you might rationalize that what you did wasn't that grievous after all, and you might convince yourself that you don't really need to apologize. Not apologizing, however, could put a real wedge between the two of you, and it could eventually ruin your relationship completely.
3. Put your apology on paper. Write out your apology on paper so that you can gather your thoughts and express your feelings. This exercise will help you figure out what to say (and possibly what not to say) to your friend.
4. Practice your apology. Once you have written out your apology, practice it. Read your apology out loud so that you can hear how it sounds. Stand in front of a mirror, if you want. Read over your apology several times so that you are comfortable with what you are going to say (though you don't have to memorize it—unless you want to). As you read your apology, if anything sounds awkward or if you just don't like how something sounds, then change it.
5. Apologize in person. In many situations, it is best to apologize in person, if you can. In a face-to-face apology you can answer any questions your friend has or explain anything that you need to, and you can adapt your apology, as necessary, to fit the needs of the situation. In most cases, you will want to apologize to your friend in private, so go somewhere quiet where the two of you can be alone and where you feel comfortable to talk about this sensitive matter. If, on the other hand, a public apology is more appropriate, still make your friend feel as comfortable as possible, given the circumstances.
If apologizing in person is not possible (either because of distance or because you are afraid to meet face to face), use a letter, rather than a phone call or e-mail. Take your time and write a well-crafted, sincere apology letter.
An obvious exception to the guidelines outlined above would be in cases where you have an online friendship with someone. In such instances, it is perfectly acceptable to apologize via e-mail or over the phone, rather than in person or with a letter.
6. Ask for forgiveness. After offering a sincere, heartfelt apology, humbly ask for forgiveness. Assure your friend that you won't make the mistake again. Tell your friend how much he or she means to you and how much your relationship means to you.
7. Make restitution, if possible, and assure your friend that you won't make the mistake again. Tell your friend what you are going to do (or what you have done) to make up for the mistake. If you were apologizing for losing your friend's favorite CD, for example, then you could make your apology with a new replacement CD in hand, and you could offer it to your friend as you apologize. Obviously, in some cases the damage cannot be undone. In such instances, tell your friend what you will do to ensure that the mistake won't happen again, and promise that you won't repeat the error.
8. Listen. After apologizing and asking for forgiveness, listen quietly to your friend's response. Allow your friend to express the pain or anger he or she has felt. Again, do not retaliate or try to share the blame.
Realize that your friend might not be ready to forgive you yet. And, depending on the offense and its effects, he or she may never be ready or willing to forgive you. Just know that you have done your best.
9. Take the next step. Consider further mending the relationship by offering to take your friend out to lunch or dinner, going to a movie, going on a walk or hike, giving him or her a small gift, or making some other gesture of goodwill.
10. Let it go. Once you have thoroughly and sincerely apologized and done all you can to rectify the situation, don't dwell on your mistake. Let it go so that your friend can let it go, as well. Your bringing it up after the matter has been resolved won't help and may even cause new pain.
The suggestions above will help you to successfully apologize and mend your relationship, but remember that, ultimately, you are the one who best understands the complexities of your relationship with your friend, so do what you feel is right. Figure out what you would want someone to do to make amends if he or she had harmed you in the same way you have harmed your friend, and then follow through with that action.