Thursday, August 4, 2011

How Many Times Do I Have to Apologize?

Only once if you do it right.

Too often an apology sounds like this:  "I'm sorry for yelling at you -- but you pissed me off."  (Translation:  It's your fault.)
Or, "I'm sorry - OK?"  (Translation:  I'm sorry you're mad.  Get over it.)
Or, "I said I was sorry.  How many times do I have to apologize?" (Translation:  It's your fault that you're still mad.  Get over it.)

Have you ever been genuinely sorry?  Maybe you did something foolish or you weren’t sufficiently careful or you spoke inappropriately or you accidentally broke something that belonged to someone else.  After making excuses and blaming everyone else, you thought about it and you realized that you were wrong.  Maybe the other person contributed in some way...but that doesn't diminish your contribution.  When you finally apologized, the other person said, "That’s not enough" or "I don’t believe you." What now?

Here are the parts of a good apology:

1.  Apologize for the specific thing.  "I'm sorry for being an asshole in the car when you were giving me directions and I took the wrong turn and I thought you were blaming me but you were just trying to explain how we could find the right street."
2.  Acknowledge the effect on the other person:  "When I behaved like that, you must have felt completely misunderstood, falsely accused, and disconnected from me."
3.  Recognize the consequences:  "I get so frustrated when I get lost that you probably are anxious about driving with me in a new city."
4(a)  Ask what you can do to build trust:  "Is there anything I can do to show you I'm really sorry about blowing up."
4(b) Alternatively, say what you will do in the future to reduce the risk of that happening again.  "How about if you drive next time we're in a new city?" 

After hearing your fabulous apology, the other person will likely also apologize for their contribution to the conflict.
Maybe there are extenuating circumstances and other issues -- there usually are -- but your apology is not concerned with them.  Bringing up excuses will diminish your apology.  Although if you really have to -- you can say, "There were some other things going on with me, if you're interested." 


  1. "Your blog had immediate usefulness.
    It got me working on an apology to my younger brother. Thanks"

  2. Hi Lil,

    I'm enjoying your blog!

    Cheers, Julia