The Art of Saying Sorry

Did you know that there is an art to both giving and receiving a sincere apology?

Have you ever had to apologize – as in really apologize – for something you’ve said or done? Saying “I’m sorry” is a real acceptance of responsibility, an admission of wrong-doing. And most of us just hate to be wrong (please say you agree with that… It’s not just us, right?). This is mostly why many of us either avoid making apologies altogether, or when we do, we fail miserably.

I'm sorryLike anything important and worthwhile, a good sincere apology is an art form – it takes practice and motivation to get it right. (We’ll just stick to our limited art skills so you don’t feel overwhelmed).

Learning to apologize well is another cornerstone of healthy relationships. Apologies – the good, the bad and the ugly – is a fairly common topic with clients, and we ‘Wise Chicks’ are not short of personal experience either (yikes!)! We’ve learned a lot of what we know the hard way, yes we have…

A good apology has specific components. While how it’s put together and expressed will be as unique as the individual person or situation, we’ve created a simple template – a formula – for success. We’ve made this easy as paint-by-numbers (okay, maybe paint-by-numbers is a stretch, we do know it can be hard..). As a plus,  research is being done on apologies so we know someone has our back!

The ‘Easy as ABC Apology’

The first “easy” part of a sincere apology:

Simple! Say “I’m sorry” or “I apologize”.


Be sincere. Do not apologize if you are not genuinely sorry. More likely than not the person will sniff the insincerity at a thousand paces. You lose credibility, and the relationship suffers. Again.

A sincere apology says sorry without excuses or blame (see below and this post).

Most of us are reasonably good at this part. However, a simple “I’m sorry”  is usually not enough to convince the person that your remorse is real. Especially if you committed a biggie. You need to add important extra bits, like these:

The “ABC (and D)” parts of a sincere apology

Accept Responsibility

I'm sorry cheat sheetPut yourself in the other’s shoes. Think deeply, and be specific about what exactly it is that you are apologizing for, name it, and name the effect you’re imagining it had on the person you hurt.

Another great read:  Thinking Out Loud: Perception is Everything

Example: “I’m sorry for embarrassing you in front of our friends. It was unkind and hurtful, and I imagine you felt humiliated.”

Be Specific about how you will make amends:

Ask yourself what action you need to take next. How could someone feel comfortable with forgiving you, and/or trusting you with their feelings again? What might they need you do to in order to create this possibility?  If you can’t figure that out – just ask them:

Example: “I’m sorry for embarrassing you in front of our friends. It was unkind and hurtful. I realize that I have lost your trust and I would love to know how to earn it back – please tell me what you need for that to happen.”

Convince  – promise – that it will not happen again.

Making a convincing promise – one that includes specific to-do’s – so that the person you hurt feels reassured and might feel safe with you again (no guarantees here unfortunately).

Example: “I’m sorry for embarrassing you in front of our friends. It was unkind and hurtful. I realize that I have lost your trust and I would love to know how to earn it back – please tell me what you need for that to happen. And, I promise not to discuss your nose picking habit in front of our friends again.

Or whatever…

Finally – and perhaps the most important step: 

Do It’.  Do what you just said you will do. Make the amends. Follow through on your promise. Your behavior is a choice. This goes back to not making an apology if you are not sincere – a sure-fire way to cause irreparable damage to a relationship.

An apology is NOT:

…about you.  It is not a time to explain, blame or make excuses for your actions (that’s a link to a supergreat three minute video – get yourself a coffee and give it a watch!)

…about being right or wrong. It is never okay to hurt someone in order to prove a point. Justifying your hurtful behavior will absolutely not help heal a bruised or broken heart. You can discuss all that once the healing has begun.

Another great read:  Breathing for Beginners: 5 Steps to a More Relaxed You


…about being forgiven. Making an apology does not necessarily mean you will be forgiven. That is up to the person you are apologizing to (see  below).Being forgiven may be your ultimate goal, but is not guaranteed.

How to Accept an Apology

While most of us wait for and often insist upon an apology when we’ve been ‘wronged’, we don’t always know how to accept the apology properly when it does happen.

This will be because either:

a) the original apology was insincere, so we are left with a multitude of yucky feelings, none of which say we’ve just been validated or vindicated;


b) we have just received a sincere apology, but our feelings haven’t magically healed and we are still angry/upset/hurt with the person who just apologized.

Let’s assume that you have received a good, sincere apology.

Be gracious and fair.  If you are calm enough, say “Thank you” or “Thank you, I realize that was very difficult for you, and I appreciate your apology”. If you are not calm, calm down first. Breathe.

You can then choose to accept the apology (“Thank you. I accept your apology”), or if you need more time, you could simply state that (“Thank you. I need a little more time before I feel I can accept your apology”). Note the missing word “but” – try not to use that, it negates the thank you.

You may want to add – “It is going to take me some time to trust you again. I haven’t yet forgiven you, and I don’t know right now now long that might take.”

Note: Just because someone apologizes does not mean you must immediately forgive. Forgiveness is an option, and usually takes time.

Remember:  There are many times in our life when we might feel we are owed an apology, but for whatever reason we do not get one. It is normal to have difficulty with letting that go. However, holding on to hurt and anger only harms you in the long run.

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die” ~ Buddha

Right so, off to have a cup of tea…


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