Sincere communication is an important part of any relationship, whether it’s romantic or platonic. And whether you need to give or receive apologies, knowing how to apologize is vital.
So how can you be certain that an apology is sincere and will help mend the wound or miscommunication?
Apologizing can renew trust, soothe hurt feelings, and return the lifeblood to a damaged relationship. But when someone hurts you and gives you a fake or insincere apology, it only makes things worse.
Here are 12 of the most common apologies that will fail to heal your relationship:
1. “I’m sorry if…”
This is a conditional apology. It falls short of a full apology by suggesting only that something “might” have happened.
- I’m sorry if I did anything wrong.
- I’m sorry if you were offended.
2. “I’m sorry that you…”
This is a blame-shifting apology. It’s no apology at all. Rather, it puts the onus on you as the problem.
- I’m sorry you felt hurt.
- I’m sorry you think I did something wrong.
- I’m sorry you feel I’m so bad.
3. “I’m sorry, but…”
This excuse-making apology does nothing to heal the wounds caused.
- I’m sorry, but most other people wouldn’t have overreacted like you did.
- I’m sorry, but other people thought it was funny…
- I’m sorry, but you started it.
- I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help it.
- I’m sorry, but there was truth to what I said.
- I’m sorry, but you can’t expect perfection.
4. “I was just…”
This is a justifying apology. It seeks to argue that hurtful behavior was OK because it was harmless or for a good cause.
- I was just kidding.
- I was just trying to help.
- I was only trying to calm you down.
- I was trying to get you see the other side.
- I was just playing devil’s advocate.
5. “I’ve already said/done…”
This deja-vu apology cheapens whatever is said by implying that there is nothing left to apologize for.
- I already said I was sorry.
- I’ve already apologized for that a million times.
6. “I regret…”
This sidestepping apology equates regret with apologizing. There is no ownership of their part in the situation.
- I regret you felt upset
- I regret that mistakes were made
7. “I know I…” or “You know I…”
This whitewashing apology is an effort to minimize what happened without owning any hurtful effects on you or others. The whitewash may seem self-effacing but on its own, it contains no apology.
- I know I shouldn’t have done that.
- I know I probably should have asked you first.
- I know I can be a bull in a china shop sometimes.
This nothing-to-apologize-for apology tries to talk you out of your feelings or imply that you shouldn’t be upset.
- You know I’m sorry.
- You know I didn’t mean that.
- You know I’d never hurt you.
8. “I’ll apologize if…”
This pay-to-play apology is not a clean, freely offered apology. Rather, you have to pay to get it.
- I’ll only apologize if you apologize.
- I’ll apologize if you agree never to bring it up again.
- I’ll say I’m sorry if you’ll just stop talking about it.
9. “I guess…”
This is a phantom apology. It hints at the need for an apology but never gives one.
- I guess I owe you an apology.
- I guess I should say I’m sorry.
10. “So-and-So told me to apologize.”
This is a not-my-apology apology. The person is saying he or she is apologizing only because someone else suggested it. The implication is that it would have never happened otherwise.
- Your mother told me to apologize to you.
- My friend said I should tell you I’m sorry.
11. “Fine! I’m sorry, OK?!”
This is a bullying apology. Either in words or tone, you are given a grudging “I’m sorry,” but it doesn’t feel like an apology. It may even feel like a threat.
- OK, enough already. I said I’m sorry!
- Give me a break, I’m sorry, all right?
A true apology, by contrast, has most or all of the following characteristics:
- Is freely offered without conditions or minimizing what was done.
- Conveys that the person apologizing understands and cares about the hurt person’s experience and feelings.
- Conveys remorse.
- Offers a commitment to avoid repeating hurtful behavior.
- Offers to make amends or provide restitution if appropriate.
An authentic apology starts with listening. If you seek to apologize, you first need to hear what happened from the other person’s point of view and how it affected them.
As therapist and author Harriet Lerner wrote, “No apology will have meaning if we haven’t listened carefully to the hurt party’s anger and pain. More than anything, the hurt party needs to know that we really ‘get it,’ that our empathy and remorse are genuine, that their feelings make sense, that we will carry some of the pain we’ve caused, and that we will do our best to make sure there’s no repeat performance.”
People issue faux apologies for several reasons. They may not believe they did anything wrong or just want to keep the peace. They may feel embarrassed and want to avoid their feelings.
They may feel shame about their actions, but feel unable or unwilling to confront their shame.
People who consistently fail to apologize may lack empathy or have low self-esteem or a personality disorder.
Whether you’re the one apologizing or the one receiving one, follow these rules to make certain the apology is sincere and well-intentioned in order to minimize hurt and help heal the wound.