How to Offer Apologies

Apologies, Apologies!

If you have ever been offended, chances are you already know how far a simple apology can go toward restoring a strained relationship. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to offer an apology or to admit that we have done something wrong. Some people seem to have a more difficult time than others do when it comes to acknowledging their faults and making amends. Many factors -- including our upbringing, age, gender, personalities, geographic location, religious or spiritual beliefs, and culture -- can influence how skilled and comfortable we are in apologizing for our actions. This guide provides some tips for offering an effective apology.

What is An Apology?

An apology is a statement that expresses regret over an action or asks pardon for a fault or offense. An effective apology both acknowledges responsibility and expresses remorse. Statements such as "I am very sorry," "How can I make up for this?" and "I won't ever do that again" are examples of the ways in which we can admit that we are at fault and that we regret our actions.

Good apologies can prevent small problems from escalating and are a useful tool in conflict resolution. An effective apology -- one that is thoughtful, genuine and timely – can eases tension, restores trust, and benefits both parties. On the other hand, an insincere apology can make matters worse. Most people can sense when someone is being insincere and they may become even more offended than they initially were. When people feel that they have been wronged and fail to receive the apology they deserve, they often continue to feel hurt and resentment and are more likely to seek revenge or punishment. As you might imagine, it becomes much more difficult to resolve the offense and to move forward.

How to Offer An Apology

Are you involved in a conflict in which you must apologize to someone? Here are some elements you might want to include.

  • Acknowledge what you did. "I arrived an hour late for our meeting and did not make my presentation."
  • Take responsibility for your actions and admit that you made a mistake or behaved inappropriately. "I know that people were counting on me to describe our project. It was my responsibility to let people know that I was running late. I know that I was wrong."
  • Acknowledge the impact that your actions may have had on other people. This might include bruised feelings, inconvenience, stress, or other costs. "My absence created a great deal of confusion among the other team members, made us appear to be disorganized, and meant that everyone had to work later."
  • Apologize for having caused pain or having done damage. "I am sorry for the inconvenience I caused and for placing the project in jeopardy."
  • Repair the damage and state your future intentions. An effective apology must include corrective action and convey your desire not to repeat this mistake. "I would like to make up for my absence by sending everyone a written copy of my presentation. In the future, I will notify people that I may be late and will arrange to have someone cover for me in my absence."

No Excuses!

One of the quickest ways to ruin a perfectly good apology is to offer an excuse or try to cast blame somewhere else. When we err, we sometimes find it easier to offer excuses or to try to justify our actions than to say we are sorry. Excuses such as "I wasn't feeling well," and "the phone was busy," allow us to avoid blame. Although we may acknowledge that a mistake occurred, excuses enable us to deny responsibility for the mistake.

"But It's Much More Complicated..."

Most of us, at one time or another, have encountered complex situations in which multiple persons share responsibility for having contributed to a problem. We not only need to offer an apology, we expect to receive an apology from another person. At other times, we may believe that we have not done anything wrong and, consequently, are reluctant to apologize. In these complex situations, conversations between the involved persons might help to clarify each person's concerns and feelings. As a skilled conflict resolution practitioner, the Mount Holyoke Ombudsperson is available to facilitate dialogue and foster mutual understanding among the involved parties. The Ombudsperson can help you to determine the best way to resolve the issue. 

Need Help? Call the Ombudsperson

The Ombudsperson offers conflict resolution services to all Mount Holyoke community members. The Ombuds Office is a safe environment for resolving difficult issues. Please feel free to contact the office for more information or for an appointment.

What if I Have Other Questions?

If you have questions, please contact the Ombudsperson.

By Sherry Turner