Practical Communication

8 Tips for Offering a Sincere Apology

Last week I wrote about the importance of apologizing when you’ve wronged someone. However, there are times when an apology can actually make the situation worse, such as when the apology is insincere, sarcastic, or flippantly delivered.

To ensure your apology is accepted in the spirit with which you intend it, be sure to follow these eight tips for offering a sincere apology.

1. Be sure your voice, facial expressions, and body language “match” the sincerity of your words.

If you sound sarcastic, angry, or indifferent when delivering an apology, your message will be lost on the other person. You might even re-ignite an argument. When delivering an apology, you need to sound sincerely remorseful for your actions. To do so, you must truly FEEL remorse for your actions. If you don’t, you need to re-evaluate whether you should apologize at this time. For example, if you’re still embarrased about what you did and you’re feeling defensive, it’s probably best to wait a day for that feeling to subside before apologizing. However, don’t wait too long!


2. Apologize immediately.

Don’t wait a week to apologize, do it on the spot, or as soon as you can. I’d suggest no more than 24 hours elapse between your transgression and your apology. Remember, an apology delayed is an apology denied.


3. Don’t just say, “I apologize,” or “I’m sorry.”

It’s important the other party know that YOU know exactly what you did wrong. Therefore an appropriate apology might be, “I’m sorry I didn’t give you the telephone message. I should have written it down and put it where you’d see it, rather than thinking I would remember to tell you.”


4. Never include the word “but” in an apology.

When you say, “I’m sorry but …”

– it wasn’t my fault, there weren’t any message pads.

– I was too busy doing my work and I forgot.

– I don’t know why I have to take messages for you anyway, why don’t you just let calls go to voicemail?

– you shouldn’t have asked me to take your calls, that’s not in my job description.

you basically erase the apology and instead, you’re making excuses for your bad behavior. No one wants to hear excuses rolled into an apology. The one exception would be if you want to provide an EXPLANATION because there is a legitimate reason for your behavior or an error. In this instance, you should first apologize, THEN say, “I have an explanation if you’re willing to hear it.” This way, the other person can choose to hear the “why” behind the situation.


5. Apologize face-to-face, or by phone.

An apology is more sincere when you take the time to face the person you’ve wronged, look him or her in the eye, and “fess up.” If face-to-face is physically impossible, pick up the phone. At least with a phone call, you can show your sincerity through your voice. Although a written apology isn’t bad, it should be a follow-up to a “live” option.


6. Offer to “make it right.”

Apologizing is nice, but it doesn’t fix what went wrong. Once you’ve apologized, it’s a great idea to ask, “What can I do to make this right for you?”, or ‘What can I do to make it up to you?” The other person may not be able to think of anything, but when you offer, you’re showing a willingness to right the wrong. Even if they other person can’t think of something you can do to make it right, find something. A small gift or taking on an extra task without being asked will show that you sincerely want to rememedy the situation.


7. Share how you’ll avoid making the same error in the future. Once you’ve apologized, be sure to tell the other person how you’ll avoid making the mistake again. For example:

– The next time, I’ll go get a message pad from the supply closet and write every message down.

– The next time, when I know I’m going to be too busy to manage your calls and my own, I’ll let you know, rather than saying I’ll do it and then doing a poor job.


8. Thank the person. When your apology is accepted, be sure to thank the other person for his or her graciousness in accepting your apology.


Apologizing isn’t always easy and the conversation won’t always go smoothly, but the ability to apologize is a key skill in enhancing and maintaining your personal and business relationships. Not only does it show your human side and your willingness to admit your faults, but it opens the door for others to feel that it’s okay to admit their mistakes as well.


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