Five Parts of an Honest Apology


An honest apology is a powerful tool that will serve you well throughout your life. It can ease your conscience and it can strengthen a relationship. It’s not easy, and some people never master this skill. Having the ability to make a heartfelt apology is a mark of emotional maturity.

I believe you need five ingredients to make a full, honest, and heartfelt apology.

  1. Say you’re sorry. Look the offended party in the eye, and include their name.
  2. State what you did wrong. Be clear about what you did. This isn’t the time to argue. If you disagree about what happened, say what you did honestly and simply.
  3. Say why your actions were wrong. How was the action wrong, unfair, or unethical? You must understand why your actions were wrong to take responsibility.
  4. Acknowledge the impact of your actions. Show empathy, that you understand the impact of your actions. More than anything people want you to acknowledge how they feel. It also opens the dialog for them to clarify the impact to you.
  5. Say how you will change your behavior. An apology should be an acknowledgement that you need to change. If you won’t work to improve your behavior, you’re not really sorry.

Simple Example

I’m sorry Bill. I took the last piece of pizza. I wasn’t paying attention, so you didn’t get your share. I understand if you feel cheated. I will do my best to hold back next time and make sure you everyone gets a fair share. Do you want the rest of the garlic bread?

More Than Words

Those five ingredients are about the words of the apology. But there’s more to it. They can’t just be words. You need to honestly regret your actions. You need to want to change. You need to work to make that change.

Without that intention to change an apology is just hollow manipulation. And without that work to change apologies become meaningless over time.

It’s Difficult and That’s a Good Thing

Offering a good apology can be really difficult. It’s part of human nature that we don’t like to admit when we’re wrong. We don’t like to admit our mistakes. We don’t like to think of ourselves as the “bad guy” in our own internal morality play.

But it should be hard. It should be uncomfortable. That’s why it’s meaningful. That’s what motivates us to change. Admitting our mistakes and learning from them is how we grow. That’s how we become better people.

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