How to apologize

There are many guides to help you learn how to effectively apologize with authenticity and sincerity.  

Maybe it’s helpful to start by remembering the apologies you’ve received that landed…. with a thud.  What did those thuds have in common?  Were they really apologies or were they excuses that held thinly veiled shifts of responsibility: 

  • “I am sorry you didn’t like it when I made fun of your shoes.” 
  • “I am sorry you were offended by my joke.” 

Often these thuds come with “intent explanations”: 

  • “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” 
  • “I didn’t understand you were so sensitive.” 
  • “Well, I found it funny.” 

Putting all of this together, what are the ingredients for a good apology? 

  1. Be genuine and authentic. This may require effort on your part. Take some time to think and maybe write down some notes. Define with clarity what your behavior was and its impact: 

    “I am sorry I didn’t clean the kitchen after lunch when it was my turn. I knew you had plans to make dinner tonight and having to clean up my mess before you could start added work and stress.” 

    Be careful here to include both parts and in the right order. It matters, consider how this could sound if not composed and delivered with intention and care: 

    “I am sorry you were stressed out because I didn’t clean up after lunch.” 

  2. Own your mistake and don’t rationalize. Maybe later the recipient of your apology will engage in another conversation that invites you to discuss the “why” behind your behavior. For now, remember that effective apologies should not include excuses. 
  3. Say the words: “I am sorry.” 
  4. Include future action. This doesn’t have to be complicated. “I won’t do it again” might be enough. Consider actions that can repair the harm. “I will take over your next turn to clean the kitchen to make up for the stress I caused.” 
  5. You are not owed forgiveness. You can ask, but you should acknowledge it is not expected. Try “I hope in time you can forgive me.” 

We all make mistakes. Learning how to effectively apologize is a skill that is worth the effort to develop and get right.