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Top 20 DONTs When Apologizing

Our top 20 list of things to avoid when apologizing—a quick reference guide for what NOT to do when you find yourself having to say sorry to your girlfriend or boyfriend, an ex, a spouse or friend.

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The DONT's of a Perfect Apology

X Don't demand forgiveness and don't expect it—no matter how much time you've spent preparing the apology.

X Don't ever try to evoke sympathy for yourself as part of the apology.

X Don't forget to do everything listed on the DOs Page and elsewhere on this site on the topic of how to apologize.

X Never assume the issue is minor. Err on the side of accepting the importance and seriousness of the mistake. Assuming this is a big deal to the other person when in fact it really isn't, is a much better place to be than the alternative.

X When preparing an verbal apology be sure to avoid any actions that could mistakenly be interpreted as insincerity—bad jokes, rolling your eyes, avoiding eye contact, excessive shuffling or nervous twitching.

X Avoid apologizing for the wrong mistake, just because that mistake is easier to fix or forgive. This approach could backfire, because it fails to satisfy any of the key ingredients of an effective apology and implies the mistake will likely happen again.

X Don't simply describe or explain the offence and assume it will be sufficient—that doesn't constitute an apology and will likely make things worse by insulting the person's intelligence.

X Don't demand a response to your apology—be patient and wait.

X Don't constantly ask the other person why they're mad—assume there's a reason. If they're forced to clarify why they are hurt then you obviously don't get it.

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X If you get an apology as well, don't use that as an opportunity to offer a few excuses.

X Avoid ALL qualifiers and hidden messages that might imply sharing responsibility for the problem/mistake—NEVER share the blame, take full responsibility.

X NEVER use the word BUT when giving an apology.

X Don't expand on the apology by linking it to ANY other issues in your relationship aside from the apology and issue/offence at hand.

X Don't take the easy way out with a simple "I'm sorry"—a well crafted and well timed apology will work much better, so don't risk it.

X Don't apologize MONTHS or years after the incident. (A comment on this point was given to us by a website visitor. We love what she had to say and have included it below)

I think this point needs clarification. I would suggest: "Offer your apology in a timely manner, and do not leave the injured party to stew over what you've done." and "If it has been months or years since a serious offense, then it is better to offer your sincere apology late, than never."

She goes on to say... FYI: I can still recall an apology I received from an ex-boyfriend about 25 years ago. I just happened to run into him in a restaurant, when I hadn't seen him for at least 6 years.

He spontaneously delivered a sincere apology, and apparently had thought about his desire to apologize to me long before that date. The apology resolved some issues for me, about things that I had been blaming on myself, and which, he explained, were really about stuff going on with him.

It meant a LOT to me. I can think of many other apologies that could be offered years later, and would still be life-changing.

X Don't screw up again—make sure you convey a clear commitment to correct the offence and that you're prepared to suffer the consequences of changing the behavior.

X NEVER start an apology with the words, "I don't know what I've done wrong, but..." Figure out what you've done wrong; make sure you get it right; and move on to crafting the perfect apology to fix it; and again never use the word BUT.

X NEVER follow the rejection of an apology with the words, "I said I was sorry what else do you want?" They probably want a lot more, so please refer back to the ingredients of a perfect apology to answer your own quest.

X Don't cross your arms or place your hands on your hips when giving an apology in person.

X Don't be defensive or angry (even with yourself)...

X Don't dwell on the apology or any of the other issues connected to it, whether or not you've been forgiven. And don't follow the acceptance of your apology with additional explanations, qualifiers or caveats. Move on!

X Once you apologize sincerely, don't keep apologizing. This will only make your apology lose meaning the longer you dwell on the wrong you did to them.

X It's usually wise NOT to be cute or include a joke to "lighten" things up. A sincere apology requires seriousness and respect for the other person and a humorous comment might insult them further.

Now let's move on to the positive. Review our list of Apology DOs and learn what you should say and include when saying sorry.

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