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How To Apologize

How to apologize? What's the best approach to take? How do I say I'm sorry? These are questions we often ask ourselves when we are in a situation where we have offended or otherwise hurt someone.

An effective apology is both a Science and an Art.
The Science is basically the formula—what ingredients to combine under the right circumstances to produce the perfect reaction; that is to be forgiven.

The Art is in how you apply the Science—how you actually deliver the apology.  When you combine the science and art of an apology you inevitably get the right answer to the central question of "how to apologize?"



There are obviously many different ways to apologize, but the ideal approach for your case depends on your answers to three straightforward questions.

Apology Icons

Who are you apologizing to?
A family member (which one: mother, father, sister, brother etc.?) A member of your extended family? A spouse or lover? A good friend, girlfriend or boyfriend? A business contact or co-worker?  Etc...

How close is your relationship with this person? Is the relationship a romantic one? Is this a business relationship? Is it a distant, but important family relationship?


How strained is your relationship as a result of the mistake?  How serious was the mistake? Apologizing to a close family member who has been seriously damaged because of something you said or did requires a different approach from one in which a friend has been hurt because of something you said or forgot to do.

There are two basic ways to deliver apologies. You can apologize in writing or verbally. In both cases you need to think through the apology to make sure that all the ingredients are present.

There are many variations in both written and verbal apologies but keep in mind these two key points when thinking about how to apologize.

A written apology gives the recipient the time to think about the situation and your apology, before responding.

A verbal apology requires that you be prepared for the conversation that will follow the apology based on the recipient's reaction whether it is positive or negative. So be prepared to think on your feet!

If the person is more of an acquaintance than a friend,
and the infraction is minor, go with a more formal approach. Write a brief apology letter and send it to them by regular mail or email.

If this is a close relationship and the infraction is major, then take the person out for a coffee, lunch or dinner.

If the relationship is intimate then think about romantic ways to deliver the apology. If you decide that a letter of apology is the right way to go, make sure it is handwritten and not typed or sent by email. A verbal apology in this case should be done in person and not over the phone.

Visit our apology DOs and DON'Ts pages for some quick tips and secondary considerations.

Apology Icons

Apologizing for many of us can be a difficult thing to do. However, our level of discomfort is usually relative to the offence.

Most of us have no problem saying "I'm Sorry" when we accidentally bump into someone on the street. In fact that type of situation is so common to us that the ensuing apology has become a reflex—an automatic response with natural timing. But what happens when we have to think about apologizing?

When we start to think about the apology, we also think about the behavior or actions that led up to it. As a result, our thoughts, emotions and pride become part of the mix and we often feel embarrassed and a sense of shame and discomfort with the situation which then translates itself into not knowing how to apologize.

The good news is, that if we messed things up all the time, we would know exactly what to say and how to apologize—just like we do when we bump into a stranger. The fact that we are not sure how to say sorry, means that most of the time our behavior is pretty much on track.

Learn what you need to include when apologizing in...
The Science of an Apology

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