Powerful Tips For Apologizing In A Way That Other People Know You Mean It

Make your apologies count.

Powerful Communication Tips For How To Apologize So That Your 'I'm Sorry' Actually Means Something unsplash / Pâmela Lima

Learning how to apologize is a key factor in any healthy relationship. But how can you be certain that your apology is true and meaningful when it's received?

There are many ways to say "I'm sorry," when you've hurt someone. But the most beneficial, effective way to communicate your sincerity is to learn what separates a good apology from a bad one.

RELATED: 10 Powerful Ways To Apologize When You've Really Messed Things Up


I'm a mom of two elementary-age boys. As you can imagine, apologizing to one another doesn't come easily for them. But we've been working on how to apologize and truly mean it.

In going through this exercise with my boys, I noticed how others apologize ... and discovered that most of us don't do it very well.

In fact, most adults apologize about as well as children do. And much of this stems from the reason you're apologizing in the first place: To get yourself out of trouble or because "it's the right thing to do," even if it's not what you want to do.

An apology should be primarily about the person you harmed. You're acknowledging that you did something wrong and hurt them. And you're telling them you'll do better in the future. This doesn't mean you aren't benefited by apologizing, but it's a secondary benefit. This means it's not the primary purpose of the apology itself.


So, what are the keys to giving a sincere apology?

Here are 7 ways you can make sure you're giving a sincere apology that has meaning:

1. Own up to what you did

First, you've got to understand what you did wrong and take full responsibility for it. No justifications or excuses allowed. And don't minimize your behavior. So, don't say "I'm sorry for lashing out at you, but I was tired," or "Sorry, I was only joking."

To make it easier to take full responsibility for your behavior, connect your behavior with your values. Ask yourself what value you dishonored. Your apology will re-align you with your values, which will make it easier to give the apology.


And although you'll benefit from realigning yourself with your true values, you'll still be taking full responsibility for your behavior.

2. Don't put it off

Once you realize you've got something to apologize for, don't delay. Often, your first reaction is to feel embarrassed and ashamed. Which is completely normal. Unfortunately, it's easy to allow these feelings to overtake you and delay a much-needed apology.

But the longer you wait, the harder it will be because the embarrassment and shame will build. Before you know it, you'll be saying to yourself that you can't apologize because it's been too long.

This delay can damage your relationship forever — so don't do it.


3. Forgive yourself and clear your emotions

Believe it or not, you need to start forgiving yourself and move past your feelings in order to give an effective apology. Why? Because the apology should be about what you did wrong and the person who was wronged. Not your feelings.

If you don't begin to forgive yourself, it's hard not to make it about your feelings and your need to be forgiven.

To move past your emotions, allow yourself to feel them. You can't get past them if you hide from them. And once you've identified them and allowed yourself to feel them, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What did you do (or not do) that's causing your embarrassment, shame, or whatever other emotions you're feeling? What behavior requires your apology?
  • What impact did your behavior have that's causing you to have these emotions?

This exercise will get you moving forward and into action. Your answers will shift you away from your feelings and toward an effective apology.


RELATED: How To Apologize In 4 Simple Steps

4. Be clear and simple

Now that you've identified your exact behavior and the impact it had, you can use your answers to craft your apology. Start with "I'm sorry" and concisely describe the behavior you're apologizing for.

For example, "I'm sorry that I was late to your recital," or "I'm sorry I said those words to you."


You can include an additional sentence if necessary, but be sure that it isn't over-explanatory and it makes the point that you have no excuse for your behavior.

Too much explanation will quickly become excuse-making, and making excuses is the last thing you want to do. It takes what started off as a good apology and turns it into a non-apology.

5. Acknowledge the impact of your behavior with empathy

Once you've described the behavior requiring an apology, acknowledge its impact and that you're sorry for the pain you caused. Your acknowledgment should relate to your behavior (not theirs). And you should express empathy for how it made them feel.

So, don't say, "I'm sorry you feel that way,” or "I'm sorry you're so hurt." That's not a true apology — you're blaming the victim. And it's not conveying to them that you have any empathy for how you made them feel.


Instead, relate their pain to what you did. For example: “I’m sorry that I hurt you.”

6. Be willing to do better

No matter how well you apologize, it will ring hollow if you continue to act the same way in the future, so you must work to not do it again. And you should say so.

Include how you will do things differently in the future as part of your apology.


7. Don't ask for forgiveness

This may be a bit controversial, but don't ask them to forgive you. Why? Because it assumes that they should forgive you. And that's not what the apology is for. An apology isn't to demand or mandate forgiveness. Its purpose is solely to take responsibility for and acknowledge the impact of your behavior.

Once you've sincerely apologized, you've put it into their court. And they get to decide whether they'll forgive you. You can tell them that you hope they can forgive you, but you shouldn't treat it as an expectation.

Here are a few examples using the formula above:

"I'm sorry I said [describe what you said that was hurtful]. There is no excuse for my behavior and I shouldn't treat you that way. I know that I hurt you deeply and I'm truly sorry for that. In the future, I will work to control my feelings so that I don't lash out when emotional. I hope that you can one day forgive me."


"I'm sorry that I lied to you. My fear of how you'd react to the truth is no excuse. I know that I hurt you and that I've damaged your trust in me. From now on, I'll tell you the truth regardless of how I fear you'll react. I know that it will take time to repair the damage that's been done, but I hope to show you that you can trust me again by telling the truth in the future."

There's no guarantee that you'll be forgiven, but learning how to apologize sincerely will positively affect your relationships. And, if done with true sincerity, you'll become more aware of your behavior, which could lead you to modify it before doing something that would require an apology.

RELATED: How To Apologize To Someone You Love So They Know You Mean It Sincerely

Heather Moulder is an executive career and mindset coach, attorney, and founder of Course Correction Coaching who helps successful-on-paper-yet-unfulfilled-in-life professionals create a balanced, fulfilling life without sacrificing their success. Connect with Heather for weekly tips and strategies on creating success on your own terms.