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How to Apologize Like You Mean It

Updated on August 12, 2013

Give a Sincere Apology

When was the last time you heard an honest apology? Better yet, when was the last time you actually said YOU were sorry - and meant it - to make amends for your past deeds?

Human beings that we are, we are going to mess up a few times in our lives. Yes, and we are probably going to hurt somebody in the process, intentionally or otherwise.

These days it seems like we've practically become immune to responsibility, however. We see husbands cheating on wives and vice versa. We witness major corporations create products, drugs, or processes that injure people.Public figures don't watch their mouths or their moves, and end up setting very poor examples (at best) and/or offending certain groups (i.e. women, African Americans, Muslims, etc.).

But they never apologize like they mean it.

Instead of just brushing the matter under the rug, as so often happens, let's stop and acknowledge the impact of our actions on others, whether they are our co-workers, neighbors, spouse, or children. Slow down for a minute and think about the stone you just dropped in the water and the ripple effect it could have on many other lives (for a minute? a day? maybe even months or years into the future).

I am not suggesting living perfectly, as that is impossible, but living consciously. When you make a mistake, put on the grown-up pants and deal with it!

Apologize like you mean it
Apologize like you mean it | Source

What We See Instead:

Lip service is paid to the term "sorry", leaving victims feeling worse than they did pre-apology:

  1. "I'm sorry you feel that way."
  2. "It wasn't supposed to happen like this."
  3. "We trained our (staff, doctors, officers, etc.) to avoid situations like this."
  4. "She did everything she could."

Elements of an Apology:

It is said that there are three main elements of a true apology:

  1. Acknowledging that you have caused another person pain or grief;
  2. Asking for forgiveness; Express that you are truly sorry for your actions or your words; and
  3. Actively seeking positive steps to rebuild trust and/or heal wounds

How do you apologize?  How can you say I am sorry?
How do you apologize? How can you say I am sorry? | Source

Can't Find the Right Words for Sorry?

Its Never Too Late To Say Sorry

I don't agree that "love means never having to say you're sorry." (Love Story , 1970). Quite the contrary, if you love someone, you should most definitely apologize for the hurts you might have caused, provided it is heart-felt and honest. And it is never too late to do so!

Some of the trickiest apologies may involve family members, ironically. This may be because blood is thicker than water. Emotions run very deep. If you have hurt a relative's feelings, then you may have to tread very carefully in healing the wounds.

Each relationship is going to differ, so you may wish to consider talking to a friend or counselor before attempting to bridge the gap, particularly if a long amount of time has passed since the argument or falling out has taken place. It could help if you draft out some points on a piece of paper first before phoning your family member. Or, perhaps you simply wish to reach out in a letter to begin with. The tone should be conciliatory and should not contain any hint of the other person's role (perceived or otherwise) in the rift that led to the split. Refer to the three steps above.

If you are rebuffed, you can try again after a resting period, or follow-up with another note again asserting your desire to make amends. Ask what you can do to make things better. It is possible that some particularly stubborn people may not come around. However, if you are genuinely open in your offer of apology, without a hint of accusation, in many cases reconciliation is possible.

Future arguments between the two of you may resurface, and you can certainly stand your ground. This is not to say that you need to surrender all power to the other person. The purpose of this section is only to emphasize that, when saying you're sorry, it is not the time to be defending yourself in a previous spat.

In short, be clear on what your objective is: To win the last argument, or to reconcile with your friend or family member. You cannot do both.

Only a sincere apology will work
Only a sincere apology will work | Source

Taking Responsibility in the Workplace

Apologizing at work can be a trickier matter than saying you're sorry to friends or family. After all, your job could be on the line. At the same time, your superiors will appreciate a person who can acknowledge when a mistake has been make and quickly seek to correct it, rather than spending hours pointing fingers at other people or departments for the error.

Consider this scenario: Its Friday at 3:30. Your team's quarterly report is due Monday at 8:00. You just discovered that you have not generated the corrected reports. This is due in part because your assistant has not completed the work, but also because you didn't give her the correct data. Instead of going on your weekend trip, you go to your boss and tell him what is going on, request overtime for yourself and your assistant for Saturday, and get the correct reports pulled together in time for Monday. Disaster averted.

Alternatively, you could have pointed fingers on Monday morning at your assistant, blaming her. Your team would have looked bad, your assistant would have looked bad, you would have looked bad, but with enough finger-pointing going around, you could have effectively avoided responsibility for a large portion of the screw-up. Not only that, but the reports would be overdue and everyone would be cranky about it. Sound familiar?

Provided you are not constantly making errors at work, you can turn saying sorry into a positive experience if you:

  • Immediately identify the problem and your role in creating it
  • Immediately identify a solution to the problem without wasting time in pulling other people into the blame game
  • Come up with creative ideas that might save the company money in solving the problem
  • Meet or beat the original deadline for product or reports
  • Create a better product or report in the end

Elliott Spitzer - Does it Meet the Standards of Apology? You Decide

Paris Hilton Goes to Jail

Apologizing to a Wide Audience

Let's say that you've messed up on a really big level. You don't even have to be a celebrity to be in the public eye, these days. School teachers, priests, and other local leaders can be arrested for drunk driving, and/or be in the news for making racial slurs. No one seems to be immune from extra-marital affairs these days.

Next thing you know, they're in the newspaper or on television with a public apology.

If you find yourself in this unenviable position, be sure to refer to the three elements above. If you cannot be authentic, then I suggest do not bother. Defensiveness and excuses may have their place in the courtroom.

But if you have put the public at risk by driving drunk, or have had sex with a person other than your husband or wife, I don't think we need to know what your reasons might have been for doing so.

Stick to a simple, "I am so sorry," and look like you mean it. If you say that you are going to volunteer for special needs organizations as a means of making amends (a la Paris Hilton), then follow through.

How to say I'm Sorry
How to say I'm Sorry | Source

A Real Apology Can make a Real Difference

As tempting as it is to want to deflect blame in the case of error, embracing it wholly and acknowledging that you have made a mistake will enable both you and the person that you have injured to move forward in a healthy manner.

Try it next time you need to make an apology. Look the person in the eye and simply say, "I am so sorry. I can see that I have hurt you by what I have done."

Don't offer any excuses or explanations. Ask only what you can do to make things better. And see just how much lighter your heart will feel thereafter!

© 2008 Stephanie Hicks


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    • greenmind profile image

      GreenMind Guides 

      23 months ago from USA

      Smart and thoughtful hub on a tricky subject -- really well done !

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 

      4 years ago from Orlando Florida

      This is a really good and comprehensive article about apology. I'm glad I didn't read your article about apologies before I wrote mine or I never would have written mine.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Peter Claven, That is something you are going to have to show them over time. You can say it, but you will have to prove it. And, more than likely for some time to come. They are probably disappointed but more than that they are worried about you well being. And, they have lost trust. The best way to show them is to stay clean, don’t lie if you mess up and love yourself enough to love them unconditionally. There’s a fine line between loving yourself and being selfish and also between loving unconditionally and enabling. Make sure you learn the difference. You may just need to know this when you have children of your own. If you tell them your sorry, then shown them you mean it than, I promise you. They will accept your apologue and be grateful that you did what you said you would do. Showing them the love and respect they deserve. Hope this helps. Bye! Tammie

    • profile image

      peter claven 

      7 years ago

      some one please tell me how to apolagise to my pairents for using drugs !?!?!??!

    • Ez Kay profile image

      Ez Kay 

      7 years ago

      Excellent hub which i enjoyed reading from.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Amy - no need to say sorry! Not at all!! When you published your hub, I thought about mentioning this one, but not really into tooting my own horn. Besides, with the state of so many people's relationships these days, having a few hubs on how to apologize is not a bad thing at all! :) Steph

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 

      10 years ago from Connecticut

      Steph, I really don't know how I missed this! Now I owe you a heartfelt apology. :) I'm so sorry!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      So true, so true. The words ring hollow, don't they?

    • warner444 profile image


      10 years ago from Hermosa Beach

      Glad you wrote this. I could almost puke when some public person says " I'm sorry IF I Might Have offended (fill in the blank) " That is so phoney, they are just mouthing the words they think will ge them off the current hook they are hanging by.

    • Encourager profile image


      10 years ago from Cotswolds, UK

      The three most important words in a marriage - I AM SORRY.

      Have you noticed that when there is an argument and one person says sorry very often its not that person's fault at all! I have noticed how when my wife and I have an argument or disagreement and my wife says "I am sorry" very often it has been my fault! This is why I believe I AM SORRY are three most important words as it sets situations right.


    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Compu-Smart - yep, its easy to say, but not many choose to do it. Thanks as always for your comments and a smile - Steph

    • compu-smart profile image

      Tony T 

      10 years ago from London UK

      im sorry to say this is a great hub!!

      It's so easy for people to say this five letter word withour meaning it cos they know that it usually works even if they mean it or not!!.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Great comments from everyone! Sir Dent, I tend to agree. If you don't mean it, its not an apology, its a lie. johnngd, yes! Saying you're sorry can make it easier for both sides to mend rifts in the future. blangrehr, yep! I understand its one of the steps to recovery! Thanks for pointing that out! commentonthis7 and topstuff, thanks for reading! Eileen - right on! Cheers all- Steph

    • Eileen Hughes profile image

      Eileen Hughes 

      10 years ago from Northam Western Australia

      Brilliant hub, yes I bet we have all let ourselves by not being honest and regretting something that we have said, that has hurt someone and not apologised for. Lots of invormation really enjoyed this

    • topstuff profile image


      10 years ago

      Great,all three elements of apology are nice and seem to be perfect.thanks

    • commentonthis7 profile image


      10 years ago

      Great hub when you say you sorry and mean it also

    • blangrehr profile image

      Hamilton Forrester 

      10 years ago from Myrtle Beach, SC

      Addiction recovery 101: acknowledgement, acceptance, saying you are sorry, meaning it. The next step: forgiving yourself. And you have to do it for everybody you’ve wronged, if it will not cause further pain.

      Great hub, that’s my meeting for this week, thanks lady

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      If you say you're sorry and don't actually mean it it is then a lie.

      Great advice and well written.

    • johnngd profile image


      10 years ago from Sydney

      Great Hub! an apology also makes it easier for the other person to apoligise in the future. The more we apologise the easier auguments are resolved and the issue gets laid to rest, if we are perceptive too the other persons fellings then we are able to see thy/re upset and can appologise sooner rather then later and before the argument becomes elevated and does real damage to the relationship.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi all - thank you for the great comments. John, you are absolutely right that the "but" negates your apology! Stop right there and just leave it before you go any further! In the Doghouse.. no, I don't practice family law, but your friend is right. Much could be saved in that area of practice (not to mention divorce court) if people would get out of their own way! LOL. Rainbow, thank you for sharing that cool video! Sapristi! I think you hit the nail on the head with respect to the government. Who knows... Marisue and Jason, I'll bet that you are both great apologizers! The purpose is to make amends, not defend yourself! 100%! Thanks everyone! Steph

    • Jason Stanley profile image

      Jason Stanley 

      10 years ago

      Something that has worked very well for me (especially with my wife - and the rest of the family) is to remember that I am on their side when I apologize. That is, what is the real reason I want to apologize? Is it because I want to get out of trouble, or is it because the person is so important to me that I want our relationship to be better.

      If it just to get out of trouble, then the apology is not genuine, it always shows and I probably would be better off not doing it.

      If it is because I genuinely am concerned for them -well that means I am on their side and it is easy to be there for them in my apology.

      I the end we all win.

      Great that you are putting such an important issue in the light.

    • marisuewrites profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      I'm Sorry 101: I'm sorry, ---- then, stop talking! Let the words sink in...

      Let your eyes do the talking...the more we say sometimes the higher the water. Put the words out on the table and leave them there. Mean it. the fewer words the better...I agree John and Sapristi, everyone...great advice. Nuff said. Marisue.

    • Sapristi! profile image


      10 years ago

      Too often we let the anger or guilt simmer until it turns into underlying resentment. Let's take responsibility for our mistakes instead of letting others suffer! On that note, I sometimes wonder if our current government would ever apologize for its mistakes, or if its self-righteousness is too ingrained... you could teach them a thing or two ;)!

      Thanks for the post and all the photos! Sapristi :)

    • RainbowRecognizer profile image


      10 years ago from Midwest

      Great hub! Thank you! Those who want to take apologies a few steps further and be 100% responsible can check out ho'oponopono in this 15 minute miracle video with Joe Vitale...

    • In The Doghouse profile image

      In The Doghouse 

      10 years ago from California


      By any chance do you practice "family law"? lol My dear friend is a family law attorney, and he always talks about how much time and money people would save if they just learned to apologize. Great Hub as usual.

    • John Chancellor profile image

      John Chancellor 

      10 years ago from Tennessee

      Steph. Great advice. I cringe every time I hear what most people pass as an apology - it goes something like this, "I truly sorry for what I did, but ..."

      Don't people know the "but" negates what came before it. As you so correctly pointed out, people are not willing to take responsibility for their actions. They want to rationalize or justify their behavior. The last thing the really want to do i to take full responsibility for their mistakes.

      The next time you offer an apology, please leave of the "but" the "however" or what ever qualifier you normally use. As Steph says, say you are sorry and mean it.


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