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How to Apologize and Mean It

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 18, 2021
From the WebMD Archives

Conflicts happen. Whether it’s an acquaintance, close friend, or family member, sometimes you might say or do something that upsets them.

Apologizing for hurting someone’s feelings or doing something that makes them mad can be difficult. Have you ever heard someone say they’re sorry without seeming like they really mean it? It doesn’t feel genuine and can leave you feeling uncertain about your relationship with that person.

Apologizing and meaning it can go a long way in healing hurts. It can help repair any damage you might have caused, even if you didn’t mean to hurt the other person.

Why You Should Apologize

When you realize that you hurt someone and you want to make amends for it, start with a sincere apology. By apologizing, you can open lines of communication and begin the process of repairing your relationship with the other person. A genuine apology shows that you feel sorry for your actions and want to do better. It also gives the other person a chance to process their own feelings. 

You’ve taken the first step to fix the damage.

Know When to Apologize

Knowing when to apologize is almost as important as knowing how. If you do something that hurts another person — whether on purpose or by accident — you usually should apologize. The sooner you do, the sooner you can work on repairing the damage and rebuilding your relationship. If you wait too long (or don’t apologize at all), you risk losing your relationship with the person you offended. You may also damage your reputation.

How to Apologize Sincerely

The words “I’m sorry” don’t mean anything if you aren’t sorry for what happened. You may not feel sorry if you think the other person was in the wrong. Or maybe you don’t know what you did to cause their hurt feelings. People say “sorry” a lot to avoid conflict or try to justify their actions.

When you apologize, you should mean it. Here are seven ways to do just that.

1.Own Your Mistake

A big part of apologizing is recognizing that you made a mistake. By owning it, you’re showing that you understand what happened and where you went wrong. Owning your mistake helps you to begin rebuilding trust.

When you offer an apology, make sure that you focus on the impact of what you did, not your intentions behind what you did. In doing so, you validate the experience of the other person and show that you understand.

2.Express Your Regret‌

Showing regret is different from accepting responsibility. Taking responsibility shows that you realize your action was offensive. Regret shows that you feel bad about it and wish you hadn’t done it. You could say something like, “I’m sorry I yelled at you. I wish I could take it back.” It can help add more sincerity to your apology.

3.Don’t Make Excuses‌

During an apology, it can be tempting to say, “I’m sorry, but.” There should be no ifs or buts with your apologies. It doesn’t matter if the other person was also wrong. Words like “if” and “but” can show that you’re trying to justify what you said or did. Adding them to your apology can make it appear less genuine.

4. Don’t Go Overboard‌

While an apology can help fix a situation and allow you to mend a hurt, it’s possible to overdo it. Avoid apologizing too much or too intensely. It can be annoying for the other person, and it can shift the focus of your apology, making it more about you. Over-apologizing also may:

  • Cause others to think less of you
  • Lower the impact of any apologies you make in the future, and 
  • Cause harm to your self-esteem

5.Offer to Fix Things if Necessary‌

If possible, find a way to make amends for the situation. If you damage someone else’s property, offer to fix or replace it. If you say something hurtful, ask if there’s something you can do to help begin the process of rebuilding trust.

6.Listen‌

An apology isn’t only about admitting you’re sorry for your actions. It’s a chance for a discussion. After you give your apology, be ready to listen. The other person may have something to say. They might want to express their feelings. Give them the chance to tell their side without interrupting them.

7.Be Prepared to Wait

Sometimes, an apology can fix a situation right away. Other times, the other person might not be ready to forgive and move on. It may take time. But offering a sincere apology is a great place to start the process of healing.

WebMD Feature

Sources

SOURCES:

BBC: “Why it is good to feel regret.”

CNBC: “Stop saying ‘I’m sorry.’ Research says it makes others think less of you – here’s what successful people do instead.” 

Inc: “The Right Way to Apologize and Why It Matters.”

Mind Tools: “How to Apologize: Saying Sorry for a Mistake.”

Nemours Kids Health: “Saying You’re Sorry.”

NPR: “You’re Apologizing All Wrong. Here’s How to Say Sorry the Right Way.”

Today: “How to say ‘I’m sorry’ and really mean it.”

USA Today: “Stop just saying ‘I’m sorry.’ Here’s how to actually apologize – and mean it.”

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