How to make a good apology

Apologies have been in the news lately. Unfortunately, many of these public apologies seem to do more harm than good. Learn how to make an apology that will actually repair your relationship.

How to apologize well

When we have hurt someone, intentionally or not, an apology is in order. A good apology can repair and rebuild your relationship. A bad apology will open the rift even further. It can perpetuate the bad feelings and erode trust even further.

Apologies are not about you or your feelings. They are about the other party and your relationship with them.

Don’t say:

I’m sorry you felt that way/I’m sorry you were offended

it blames other person for their own feelings

I’m sorry, but …

the word but word but erases everything went before, it completely discounts your remorse

It wasn’t my intention to hurt you

Good intentions are not enough to get you off the hook

This is not representative of me/my behaviour

Now is the opportunity to show it by taking responsibility

Apologies can be difficult. It is hard to admit you have been wrong. We all have a tendency to excuse our own behaviour and to gloss over wrongdoing. It takes courage to apologize well.

According to research there are 6 elements to an effective apology.

1. Express regret for the offense

  • Be specific
    • I’m sorry that I took your sweater without asking
    • I feel terrible that I raised my voice.

2. Explain

  • Answer the question “how could you do this to me?”
  • Be very careful to avoid making excuses or justifications for your behaviour
  • A good apology does not contain the word “but”
    • I was late and rushing.
    • I have been short-tempered lately.

3. Acknowledge responsibility

  • This is the most important part of any apology; without it your apology is unlikely to be effective.
  • Take ownership by admitting you were wrong
    • I should have asked your permission first.
    • I was wrong to raise my voice. This is not appropriate.

4. Repentance

  • This is a promise to change or that you will not repeat the behavior
  • Explain what you learned, or what specifically you will change
    • I will ask before I borrow your things in the future.
    • I need to give myself more time so I am not so rushed.

 5. Offer of repair

  • Suggest an action to make amends and rebuild trust.
  • Consider how you might fix the mistake
    • May I replace it?
    • Can I do it something to make this up to you?

6. Request forgiveness

  • This is a request, not a demand.
  • Offering an apology does not give you the right to forgiveness. Forgiveness is a choice of the other party.
    • Could you forgive me?

Out of these elements, the most important is the acknowledgement of responsibility. Without this, your apology will likely fall flat. The more elements of these elements that you include, the more weight your apology will carry with the other person. This makes it more likely you can genuinely repair the relationship.