How to apologise

I hate it when people are upset with me. For this reason I find apologizing quite easy. I have never before considered the quality of my apologies and what they should or shouldn’t include.

I have recently been reading about how to make effective apology. It is interesting that on the surface level an apology can appear to be genuine, but when you analyse the detail they might not be all that effective.

I have detailed a number of things that should be in place to ensure any apology you give is effective:

1) Acknowledgement of the offense

To ensure it is a valid acknowledgment, it must be clear who the offender is and who has been offended. The offender must clearly and completely acknowledge the offense. You might notice that many apologies fail the acknowledgment phase as they make vague and incomplete apologies. This stage will be less effective if you do any of the following:

–  Use the passive voice, rather than taking personal responsibility (mistakes were made)

– Make it vague (sorry for whatever I did)

– Make it conditional (if mistakes were made)

– Failing to recognize the size of the offense or trying to minimize the offense (this was a one off)

– Apologise to the wrong people

– Apologize for the wrong offense

– Saying you are sorry rather than accepting responsibility

2) Accept the responsibility for the wrong doing and admit that it was wrong

An effective apology requires that the wrongdoer admits they were responsible. If they acknowledge that what was done was wrong, it allows both parties to realize they have shared values. This is important for building trust in the relationship going forward. It also helps to clarify that the victim was not responsible for the offense. This can be especially important in cases where the offended may carry an irrational blame of themselves.

3) Provide an explanation

An offense may be mitigated with an effective explanation by showing it was not intentional. An explanation will be ineffective if it seems fake or shallow, such as ‘it was a moment of insanity’ or “I just snapped” or “I was not thinking.” It can be much more effective to admit ‘There is no excuse for what I did” than in offering an explanation that seems shallow.

4) Convey an understanding of the other persons feelings

This is where it is clear from the apology that the offender understands how their actions impacted the other person. This can help to clarify the wrongdoer understands the impact of their actions.

5) Provide reassurance it will not reoccur

If during the explanation the wrongdoer makes it clear that this will not happen again it can help to make the offended person feel reassured. It can be very effective to outline what measures will be taken to ensure the mistake is not repeated.

6) Show remorse

Remorse is other important component of an apology. It show that the offender recognizes the suffering of the offended. It makes it clear that they know it should never have happened. It can also help restore the sense of dignity of the person who has been offended.

7) Compensation

This is finding a way to compensate for the offender’s transgression. If there has been a loss of a tangible object the compensation could be a replacement, but often a loss is intangible such as an insult or humiliation. In these cases the compensation could be a gift, a financial exchange, a commitment to change ones behaviour, or a punishment of the guilty party. This helps to put in place the feeling that there is some sort of justice for the wrong doing.

If during an apology you can use as many of the above elements as possible, it will help the apology be more effective and will therefore help to achieve forgiveness and the rebuilding of the relationship.


I’d love to hear in the comments below whether you have given or received an effective apology and whether it contained these elements.


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