How to Apologize to an Old Friend in a Note

In a written apology, you can take your time and consider your words carefully.
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Whether you lost your friend’s expensive camera, betrayed his confidence or simply neglected the camaraderie until it wilted, apologizing sincerely is essential to winning your friend back. Take note of the most effective ways to apologize in writing, as expressing contrition via a letter can present challenges.

Recognize the specific offense and take responsibility for it, recommends Marsha Wagner of Columbia University, in the MIT web publication, “Elements of an Effective Apology.” For example, write “Last Friday, I borrowed your favorite shirt and tore it. I should have bought a replacement or offered to pay to have your shirt repaired.”

A good apology can preserve the friendship because it shows you respect and value the other person, according to the website TeensHealth from Nemours, in the post “Apologizing.” Emphasize how important your friend is to you by acknowledging the impact of your actions. “When I shared your secret at school, I know it made you feel embarrassed and hurt.”

Express deep remorse. Write something along the lines of, “You are one of my oldest friends, and I deeply regret hurting you by my careless behavior.” Remorse is one of the hallmarks of genuine apology and can demonstrate that you understand the pain caused to your friend, says Aaron Lazare, psychiatry professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, in the article, “What an Apology Must Do” for Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life.

If you cracked the screen of your friend’s phone, offer to replace it as soon as you save up enough money. If you spread a rumor, promise that you will set the record straight and publicly take responsibility for the falsehood. Explain in writing that you will make restitution for your wrong in whatever way you can.

Express that you will act differently in the future, advises Wagner. Your friend needs to know that you prioritize the friendship and that you will protect it by making sure you don’t commit the same offense in the again. For instance, “From now on, I will write the dates of your playoff games in my calendar so that I will know the dates and can show up to support you play on the team.”

Your task might be especially challenging when you’re writing a letter, as the recipient cannot judge your sincerity by tone of voice or body language, points out Diane Gottsman, owner of The Protocol School of Texas, in the Huffington Post piece, “Apology Etiquette: It’s Never Too Late.” Explain why you chose a letter – whether because of distance or because you wanted to give your friend time to process her grief without imposing – and express your desire to speak in person as soon as it’s possible and when your friend is ready.

Jae Kemp has been writing and editing professionally since 2010. In addition to reviewing novels, memoirs and psychology/self-help books for major review services, Kemp has served as a copywriter, commercial and creative editor, and staff article writer.