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How to Apologize Correctly: Part 3

19 March 2007 | 20:11 | Conflict Management, Happiness | 4 Comments
How to Apologize Correctly: Part 3

Part three of this course provides you with tips on how you can correctly apologize. These tips will help you in ways beyond apologizing. The tips can be applied in many areas of your life and communication as you will soon see. This part of the course provides you with a guideline of more effective communication in your everyday life to enjoy better relationships.

Some people think apologizing correctly is as simple as saying “sorry” for a mistake. This is a shallow and poorly defined understanding of what we try to achieve when apologizing. The goal of apologizing – and what I define as “apologizing correctly” – is when the person you hurt accepts your apology and forgives you. The person neither rejects your apology by saying something like “no need to apologize” nor holds your mistake against you.

Whether your relationship is stronger, indifferent, or worse, is beyond the apology as this depends on the severity of the mistake. If you keep screwing up by making mistake after mistake, you will have successfully apologized when the person forgives you but it doesn’t mean your relationship is the same as it was before you made the mistake. Remember that a successful apology is accepted and the mistake is no longer held against you. The person forgives you for your mistake. Resentment, frustration, anger, gossip, bitterness, ill-will, and other outward manifestations of hatred are erased. Someone who experiences these emotions are signs the person has not forgiven.

The person forgives you for your mistake. Resentment, frustration, anger, gossip, bitterness, ill will, and other outward manifestations of hatred are erased.

There is a lot of confusion about the old phrase, “We must not forget; but we must forgive”. Have you ever thought deeply what this truly means? Instead of just accepting these phrases we were brought up to believe, I want you to challenge them. We know forgiveness is a must. Without it, resentment builds up which only hurts the person unwilling to forgive and not the person who did the damage. So should we forget other people’s mistakes?

If another person holds the bitter memories and resentment of your mistake against you, then the person really hasn’t forgiven. However, it’s almost humanly impossible to forget another’s mistake. Forgiveness heals the past releasing ill-will against the person while not forgetting is a memory of the pain that guides future actions. It would be foolish to not learn from the past. Forgiveness and forgetting are closely tied together, yet are entirely different things.

Having defined a successful apology, I feel it is important to note that apologizing correctly can only do so much as you will learn in part five of the course. There is no iron-clad, fool-proof, guaranteed technique to successfully apologize. Sometimes you will need to suffer your mistakes and bear the punishment. Apologizing can sometimes only be a bandage on a wound to help heal the pain. If the wound is repeatedly reopened, then it is not the bandage’s fault, but the person who inflicted the pain is responisble. Someone can only forgive you so many times before they lose trust in you. They cannot forget the pain you have caused them. A reoccuring problem needs to be dealt with instead of expecting an apology to make amends.

Apologizing correctly can be very difficult, but with the following tips you will be fixing your mistakes and repairing your relationships. Master these tips and you will be equipped with the tools to repair the emotional damage caused from your mistakes.


Admit you hurt the person. If you hurt the person by saying something offensive, admit that you made the mistake. Do not say, “You shouldn’t be offended by what I said.” Remember a non-apology from part two – barriers and mistakes made in apologizing – where it involves putting the blame on the other person while simulatenously “apologizing”? Remember the politicians and public apologies? Here are examples of a non-apology apology:

  • “I apologize to those I hurt because of their loss.”
  • “I’m deeply sorry for those who I may have offended.”
  • “Please take my apology if you were offended by what I said.”

These examples appear to be apologies, yet they are attempts to avoid responsibilty for creating pain from the mistake. Own up to the mistake and take responsibility regardless of your intentions and whether it truly hurt the person. The little voice that is trying to take you away from accepting responsibility and apologizing is your ego. Egos are filled with deceitful lies and pride trying to deter you from responsibilility and owning up to your mistakes.


Planning what you are about to say by thinking your apology through beforehand, or writing your apology down to clarify your thoughts, will increase your chances of successfully apologizing. This technique is about preparing yourself so you give a sincerely successful apology. Planning helps you eliminate the potential room for error of making another mistake when apologizing because we fail, stuff up, and make mistakes all the time. It is human nature.

When intense emotions are being spat-out like in an argument, it is hard enough to think of what you want to express yet alone say it in a non-destructive manner. Intense emotions are blinding to successfully expressing your thoughts non-destructively. Planning your thoughts before going “live” with your apology will drastically increase the likelihood of a successful apology. A plan gives you guidelines on which to act from – helping you to keep on track and not deviate with relationship damaging statements all too common in emotionally intense situations.

The same lesson in planning to achieve your life goals carry over into apologizing. Success stems from the seeds planted with planning. Do not take this advice lightly. Planning nutures golden relationships.


For a little problem you need to apologize straight away and prevent it from growing into a big one. It’s very simple. If you accidentally step on someone’s foot, obviously you should say “sorry” straight away instead of apologizing at a later time. (I’m sure the person will think you have got some serious problems if you write an apology for stepping on their foot.)

For a more serious problem, take the time to get in a good environment where you can honestly apologize and where they can safely respond. Do not hurt yourself and the other person more by “going into a boiling room” so-to-speak by trying to apologize when the two of you have red hot steaming emotions. As said earlier in the course, if emotions are hot and intense, you may need to wait for a later time to apologize until the emotions cool down.

In addition, it may be necessary to give the person time once you have apologized. Provide the person with extra space to let the person come to terms with what has happened. Letting your apology seep-in could be what makes your apology successful.


Why did you make the mistake? Do you even know that you made a mistake? Let the person know about your faults. Become vulnerable.

You should be able to realize when you hurt someone, but if you do not, the other person’s reaction will let you know. Depending on your mistake, explain to the person that you did not see them there, that you let your anger get the better of you, that you were ignorant, that you should have understood them better, or whatever the case maybe.

When explaining, do not forget responsibility. It is tempting when explaining your mistake, to shift the explanation onto the other person. You start off by saying, “I’m sorry for not taking out the garbage…” then your selfishness can kick in and you say “…but I always take out the rubbish and you don’t ever do it!” Explain the problem, but don’t divert it into being the other person’s problem.

Use the who, what, why, when, and how to get you started in explaining your mistake. You do not need to explain everything – just say what you think will help the most and will clear up the understanding between the two of you.


Sympathy is an expression of pain the person you hurt is likely to be feeling. Communicating sympathy is important to let the person know you are hurting from your mistakes. You need to show sorrow about your actions. Share the other person’s pain by reflecting your feelings about the mistake by saying something as simple as:

  • “I’m sorry I lied to you. I feel guilty that I’ve let you down.”
  • “Having scratched the car, I feel ashamed that something so careless will hurt our finances.”
  • “I feel I have let you down and hurt our relationship by yelling at you.”

A common misunderstanding with sympathy is you are focusing on yourself and diverting attention away from the hurt person. Sympathy is about showing the person that you are also suffering from your blunder. You are opening yourself up by showing that the mistake had a bad effect on you. The other person becomes more understanding and willing to discuss their feelings because you have expressed yours.

You could even say the other person is happy to receive this little bit of secret revenge by seeing you suffer. I mean if someone hurts us, we sometimes get a little kick of happiness seeing the other person also suffer from their actions.

How Did It Go?

Was your apology a failure? A failing apology has got nothing personally to do with you. Failure is a result, not a person. If you are certain you successfully applied all these tips and your apology did not work, then part four of the course on alternative ways to apologize will be of your assistance as well as part five on what to do when you are not forgiven.

Alternatively, was your apology successful? If so, congratulations. Be grateful for the person’s forgiveness and for a second chance. Learn from your mistake and move on, not dwelling on the past. You’ve got a great future ahead of you so make use of it by putting your attention on what you can do now to improve the relationship.

Links in this Course: Clumbsy Little Earthlings – 5 Part Course On Apologizing

  1. Power of Apologizing
  2. Barriers and Mistakes Made in Apologizing
  3. How to Apologize Correctly
  4. Alternative Ways of Apologizing
  5. Finding the Art of Forgiveness

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4 Responses to “How to Apologize Correctly: Part 3”

09 Apr 2007, 1:41 am

Hi, I think this article is great in approaching a thing like forgiving with technical details…Many among us are well convinced that being a forgiving person is good but does not know how to make it for some matters that are dealt above. Thank you so much, Martin

Apology Guy
15 Apr 2007, 4:09 am

Nice article although in my opinion you forgot about one critical element–that is to explain what steps are being taken so that the same thing doesn’t happen again.

To apologize for something that you do repeatedly (or may do again) is meaningless, no matter how correct or “perfect” the apology is.

12 Aug 2008, 10:32 pm

:oops: be your self to say sorry I think doesn’t need people to guide you how to do, to do things that not you may make the person who you apologise happy, but Itisn’t real, why people need fake under role,rather than see and happy real action. I think we will never understand each other with diffrence idea life. Sorry, I done it wrong but this is my comment.

04 Nov 2008, 10:03 pm

Thanks for this article. I will never be able to take back my wrongs but I hope to correct some of the hurt I made. I found this good to inspire thought and consideration.

I agree with the comments by Martin and Apology Guy and I feel sorry for those hurt by people like Jair above who clearly show no ability to be truely sorry or consider the view anyone but himself.

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