How to Apologize: It’s Not as Simple as Saying I’m Sorry

a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure.

A simple apology of “I’m sorry” all to often is simply not enough to prompt the recipient of the sentiment to let go of their pain. So simple may appear to be more of a meaningless platitude.

a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.

How then do we offer a meaningful apology?

If you surf the intertubes, you’ll find all kinds of recipes, from three to eight steps. Generally, the more you include, the more readily the recipient will identify your apology as sincere.

Short list of the barest minimum of ingredients in an  apology:

I’m sorry.
It was my fault.
How can I make it up to you?

Here’s a longer list of possible ingredients for a sincere, and effective apology

a detailed account of what happened
acknowledgement of the hurt or damage done (to ALL parties including yourself)
taking responsibility for the situation
recognition of your role in the event/ how you contributed to it
a statement of regret/remorse (for both what was done initially and the indirect effects on others because of it)
asking for forgiveness
a promise that it won’t happen again
a form of restitution (whenever possible)

In my personal opinion, palpable remorse/regret and meaningful reparations in the event of an egregious offense are key to earning my forgiveness, rather than asking for it. The greater the offense, typically the more detailed of an apology is required to lessen my pain, otherwise all I hear are meaning less platitudes.

What would you add to the list? What elements of an apology are most important for you to hear? Share your thoughts in the comments.

References: The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch,, On Apology by Aaron Lazare
I also recommend Leland R. Beaumont’s commentary on apology.

About Apophenias

I'm human. Female. Self-employed. Searching for connections in the randomness of life. Currently residing the US. ... And not quite defined by being in the midst of a biological ticking.
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3 Responses to How to Apologize: It’s Not as Simple as Saying I’m Sorry

  1. Pingback: Too Little, Too Late (Or is it?) | apophenias

  2. dave94015 says:

    lots to consider here…may I ask for a specific situation where an apology might be applicable? I’m thinking of the big “C” (cheating) in a poly relationship requires much more than an apology…more of a deeper understanding of what the relationship is about and maybe a decision?


    • Apophenias says:

      Apology for even something minor can benefit from more than a simple apology, “I forgot to pick up the cheese on the way home that you asked me to pick up for the new recipe you were excited to make for me tonight. I understand you are frustrated. I’m sorry. I know it means the dinner you were making will be delayed. How about I run back out to get it, or I can throw some burgers on the grill and grab the cheese for tomorrow?”

      I agree, in any relationship, poly or monogamous or otherwise, there are times when more than the simple “I’m sorry” apology would be beneficial, hence the inclusion of future action/reparations.
      An example of a specific situation where an apology is applicable? Of course the big “C” is way up there. How about something more subtle, such as deceptions, one example – literally crying to one partner about not being able to contribute financially to their shared household, while boasting about “she isn’t worried about bills, but I give her money each month for them anyway” to someone new online who expressed that she broke up with a partner because he refused to chip in for household expenses. Or something more egregious, such as hiding a phone on record in a bathroom and then denying it when confronted until evidence is produced.


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